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TechWatch: Hunting novel materials using Artificial Intelligence robots


Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have succeeded in combining Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics to discover recipes for making novel inorganic materials that could improve the performance of batteries, fuel cells, and superconductors.

Engineer controlling robot on tablet with AI

This development, established within LBNL’s Material Project, speeds up the process of synthesizing such materials which hitherto involved human effort. In fact, their new set-up, known as A-Lab, is already synthesizing about 100 times more novel materials per day than humans in the lab can manage.

LBNL’s A-Lab is fully automated and can run continuously. Its AI starts by establishing a plausible approach to synthesizing a material and then guides robotic arms to select from among nearly 200 different powdery starting materials. After mixing these precursors, another robot parcels them and loads them into furnaces where they can be mixed with gases such as nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen.

The AI then determines other treatment, such as heating and drying times, before the new material is sent on to analysis to assess whether its structure and properties are as predicted and, if need be, iterate the approach taken to refine the result. The process drastically increases the creation and discovery of new compounds where the number of potential recipes is essentially infinite!

It is estimated that this technology will mature within two years.

AI is becoming increasingly important across all aspects of consumer and operational technology and services. QinetiQ has specialist expertise in this area. We work with an array of industry partners and academia to further the research, develop leading-edge solutions and services, and provide advice to our customers in these fields. Find out more about our capability here.

This article first appeared in the 13th edition of our horizon-scanning quarterly technology publication TechWatch. To receive similar insights, hot off the press, subscribe for free here.