If you ever been to a biology laboratory, you might have noticed that a lot of the equipment in there are designed to perform very specific tasks. Each task is normally performed by one machine, but from the electronics point of view, all these machines have a lot of similar modules!! Here are some examples, with each item in the list below organized as:
- task - machine examples - electronics module (overall view)
- Heating.cooling static samples - Dry baths, PCR machines - peltier elements, H-bridge, temperature sensors
- Heating/cooling flowing solutions - in line heater, heated chambers - peltier elements, H-bridge, temperarture sensors
- Keeping air in a chamber at constant conditions - incubator - peltier elements, H-bridge, temperature sensors
- Controlling fluid injection - syringe pumps - stepper driver
- Controlling fluid flow (reward systems, perfusion) - peristaltic pumps, solenoid valves - H-bridge/solenoid controller
- control gas flow - solenoid valves - H-Bridge/solenoid controller
- Measuring environmental variables (temperature, humidity, light levels) in animal husbandry rooms - different types of sensors - microcontroller+sensors
All of the above are just a subset of the types of machines in a lab, and what we can see from these examples is that there is a lot of repetition on the electronics behind different devices!
Unfortunately, this repetition did not bring about the benefits we would expect, that is, these machines are not made cheaper or more accessible because they could have interchangeable parts, or because they are easy to repair, etc.
Being expensive and only available for purchase via a few different companies, makes these machines only accessible by researchers in academic institutions. And even in this case, researchers have to be in well funded laboratories in specific locations in the globe (as being away from the "global north" increases the complexities of shipping, customer care, customs etc).
These issues make research an elitist activity, when it should be the opposite! EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO ASK SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS AND PERFORM EXPERIMENTS TO GENERATE THE DATA THAT WILL HELP ANSWER THOSE QUESTIONS.
One possible solution for the problem mentioned above is to make scientific equipment easier to access/build/understand/modify.
This is where BeeHive comes in! We are building a modular platform that will allow people to pick up different modules and build equipment, making using of re-usable electronic modules as well as code.
The system specification:
- A central breakout board for ESP32
- different custom PCBs, each responsible for one task (H-bridge, solenoid driver, 8 switch array, IR photo transistor controller, temperature sensor breakout)
- Standard pin out for the boards, allowing other PCBs to be created by anyone
- compatibility with GROVE System for different sensors and actuators
- A training board with different actuators and sensors so that users can focus on developing their own different firmware for their applications, before figuring out the electronics and their connections (to be implemented)