November 15, 2016

Opentrons’ New Interface for Automated Pipetting Robot Streamlines Workflow Programming

Will Canine
Will Canine, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Opentrons

Opentrons Labworks Inc., an automated laboratory equipment startup, has announced its release of a new Application Programming Interface (API) for its automation platform. The API will allow researchers to program complex workflows using Python language to be carried out the company’s flagship technology: the Opentrons OT-One automated pipetting robots.

Will Canine, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Opentrons, described the launch as “a key milestone towards our vision of robots running common protocols on every lab bench. The API gives our vibrant open-science community the software tools it needs to create automated workflows that anyone with Opentrons can run in their own lab.”

Artyom Astafurov, Vice President of Engineering, also weighed in his company’s announcement.  “We’ve designed the API to be an easy step into programming and automation for any bench scientist. Our API makes your code read like a protocol written in your lab notebook, but you can extend it using everything the Python ecosystem has to offer,” he said. “With Python fast becoming the language of choice for many scientific computing applications, we are excited to be extending its use in the bio lab.”

As Canine notes, the software interface will allow researchers to share their protocols so that other labs employing Opentrons can execute them with ease. The API interface also links with the software associated with many other pieces of lab equipment (such as microscopes, bioreactors, and robotic magnetic platform) to create a seamless user experience from design of the experiment to the collection of results.


The Opentrons OT-One automated pipetting machine, with which the company’s newly-released Application Programming Interface will be compatible.

A revolution in automation and scalability

Opentrons is one of many companies forging the underfoot revolution in the automation and scalability of biotechnology. With computer science, robotics, and synthetic biology now intersecting in unprecedented ways, an increasing number of tools like Opentron’s OT-One machines are allowing commercial and academic laboratories to perform high-throughput and highly accurate experimentation schemes like never before.

Anyone who has spent time in a life science laboratory knows that the precise and detailed steps for creating a reaction solution by hand are a major time sink. In addition, when a researcher repeatedly pipettes small, individual volumes of liquid, human error can lead to unpredictable variation in the composition of reactions, which can adversely impact experimental results. Robotic automation of this process removes human error from the equation and allows reactions to be set up in higher replicate than feasible for a single scientist to perform.

Opentrons is not the only company that is taking advantage of the emerging market for automated lab technology. The makers of aBioBot are designing a pipetting robot with visual acuity that will allow the machine to catch any errors that are made. Transcriptic and Arcturus BioCloud are taking a different approach by arranging cloud databases for scientists to use a computer interface to remotely commission experiments that are outsourced to automated laboratories. Biorealize is working on a holistic microbial design studio to carry out fully automated and computer-mediated genetic engineering protocols. While startups are approaching the automation revolution from many angles, the overall direction of the market is clear: scientists want more work done, more rapidly, and with more precision that traditional methods have ever allowed.

Who is Opentrons?

Opentrons is a two-year-old startup whose founders have said that they one day seeks to be the “PC of biotech labs.”  Opentrons’ beginnings trace back to the Shenzhen, China- and San Francisco-based technology accelerator Haxclr8tr, whereafter the company conducted a highly successful seed funding campaign on the crowdsourcing website Kickstarter.  Since then, the company has raised $2 million in funding from Khosla Ventures and Y Combinator.

Opentrons’ OT-One machine carries a pricetag of $3,000—a cost that is many times less expensive than comparable machines offered by its larger, more well-established competitors like Eppendorf, CyBio, and others.  In addition, the company is offering to provide support and training free of charge to new users of their OT-One robots and their now-released API.

Opentrons reports that its machines are already being deployed in over 140 laboratories across the world, including the Stanford Proteomics Core Facility, the Mayo Clinic and Lifengine Tech collaboration, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard, among others.