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LabAutomation Conference Participants Find Oasis of Information

PALM SPRINGS, Calif., Feb. 5 - The robots converged on the California desert this week for the LabAutomation 2003 conference in Palm Springs.

 

They were followed by about 3,700 automation seekers from biopharma and academia -- according to the Association for Laboratory Automation, the conference organizer -- who wandered gape-mouthed through the 11 aisles of the massive exhibit hall at the Palm SpringsConvention center, watching the whirr of robotic arms moving test tubes and stacking microplates, often to a techno beat.

 

But this year's Lab Automation conference wasn't only a gee-whiz auto show type of conference, like it has been in the past, said Pete Massaro, CTO of Protedyne. "We've gotten tremendous leads," he said. "People are not just interested in the technology. They are interested in specific applications."

 

For Windsor, Conn.-based Protedyne, maybe this increased interest from real potential customers had something to do with the fact that they had launched version of their BioCube drug discovery lab automation system "made for mere mortals," in addition to their ultra high end BioCube System. The tools, encased in shaded glass boxes, use robotic systems to store, ID, and retrieve samples, and are controlled by the user with a LIMS system. Protedyne announced at the conference that it has installed the larger version of the BioCube at Molecular Staging for protein biochip processing.

 

Protedyne's positive take on the conference was echoed by other automation players, including Zymark, which said it had over 90 leads by Monday evening.

 

Even smaller automation companies, such as bar coding startup Microscan systems of Renton, Wash., said the conference was hot. "It's one of those shows that helps define the difference between quality and quantity of leads," said company rep. Niels Wartenberg.  Microscan makes an automated bar coding scanner and CCD reader that can be mounted along conveyor lines or integrated with other equipment.

 

For other companies the conference was a chance to promote a new image.

 

PerkinElmer jumped full-tilt into proteomics, unveiling its new orthogonal MALDI TOF, the PrOTof, and displaying for the first time a full lineup of proteomics instruments.

 

For Tecan, of Durham, NC, the conference not only provided a forum for launching a number of new liquid handling robots and microplate readers, and to make a marketing splash: The company's booth was organized around a Desert Trek theme, complete with a brown paper map that led visitors through the maze of instruments, and with company reps dressed in red fleece vests and five-pocket desert fatigues. The company's giveaway: a compass to hang around the neck.

 

The compass may have been useful for those staying outside the conference hotel, as the local lodging is spread out for miles along the Palm Springs-area desert valley.

 

Next year's conference will present no such accommodation challenges for the bulk of attendees. It is to be held

Feb. 1-5, in San Jose, Calif., just a few freeway exits away from biotech bay.