The lab of the future is not discrete new laboratory design. Rather it is transforming how we do research by adopting automation, digital transformation, and the ways we interact in and with our labs.  We can think of a lab as a capability for analysis, experimentation, engineering and development, rather than as a place.

The future lab capability will integrate virtual and physical technology. It will often be shared between teams and across organisations, with remote access to the capability a normality for many researchers.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will assist with literature review and formulation of the science questions.  In-silico modelling will refine parameter space and experiment design. For some research, the entire process will be conducted via digital twins and virtual labs in the cloud.

Automation and robotics will dominate the physical laboratory environment. There will be no further manual handling of samples, chemicals and equipment after they arrive on site. Sensors will record laboratory activity, identify issues and ensure supply of gases, chemicals, power services and samples. The built environment will be reconfigurable to adapt to new emerging instrumentation or alternate uses.

Highly skilled specialist master technicians will staff the physical laboratory, to ensure equipment is appropriately configured and maintained. Visualisation tools, like mixed reality, will augment what they see with digital information, such as equipment manuals and sample batch numbers, and other cameras will monitor the laboratory environment, equipment performance and for safety. Voice will be used to instruct instruments, request information or support and record observations.

Researchers will be able to access the same vision, remotely, communicate with technicians in real time, and participate in the lab process where beneficial. Researchers should also be able to attend the physical laboratory, as long as necessary safety training has been completed. Similarly, service technicians will be able to resolve some equipment issues and maintenance remotely.

Results from analysis and experimentation, along with researcher and technician notes, will feed directly from instruments into a Managed Data Ecosystem. This will become the indelible record, supported by the data generated, which remains available for further research.

What are the steps we need to be taking today, to build the laboratories of the future?