Linking the lab to the desktop
Virtual robots can be created on the desktop by linking JAVA devices together in an equipment control program. In this example, a DNA sequence analysis program is used to design primers, which are sent to the Equipment control program. A DNA sequencing robot is created by writing code that calls a DNA synthesizer, thermal cycler, and Flourescent DNA sequencer in succession. Results are relayed from the sequencer via the control program, into a DNA sequence analysis program. The electronic lab notebook is also a JAVA device, and can be used to tell the program which DNA samples to use for sequencing, or where to store samples generated by the thermal cycler.
The virtual robot can be modified for different functions by simply changing the code . In this example, the equipment control program represents each real device by a screen icon. Note that the pipetting robot, which is called by each device, does not need to be represented in the control program.
While setups like this can be created using existing PCs and operating systems, each virtual device is a special case requiring extensive programming to implement. With JAVA-driven networked devices, it becomes possible to have design and reconfiguration of virtual devices using a simple graphic user interface. For example, if you wanted to quantitate your PCR product before loading onto the sequencer, a flourescence detector might be linked between the thermal cycler and the DNA sequencer, and only samples that successfully amplified would be loaded onto the sequencer.
Another advantage of virtual devices is that the real devices do not need to have hardware such as printers, monitors or LCD displays, since all interaction with the real devices comes through the equipment control program.