Pipette robot

I'm looking for some advice on a hobby robotics project.
I'm a PhD computer scientist working in a biology lab as the computing
dogsbody. Among other things, we do microarray experiments, which involve pipetting DNA fragments, antibodies and other additives into a 2d array of wells:
http://shop.arrayit.com/ProductImages/microplate/Microplate-Microarrays-600.jpg
This is currently done by hand - once each for each additive. It takes ages and is very tedious. There are pipettes that do several wells at once, but apparently they're not very reliable. There are also commercial robots, but I'm told they're very large and expensive.
I wondered if I could build a lego robot to do the job, as much for fun as anything else. I would build some sort of gantry, like a loading crane you see at rail-freight stations and ports, and a mounting for a pipette, then use servos to move along the rows, possibly with some other error correcting mechanism.
I'm looking for some advice on equipment. I did a robotics course when I was an undergraduate, using an MIT handyboard. These cost about 200 in the UK. I could also buy a Lego mindstorms kit, about 150, but I'm not sure how ideal this is for the application. Also, I'd much rather have a simple C compiler (as with the Handyboard) than the all-singing Windows only graphical interface I'm guessing I'll find for the Mindstorms device.
Does anybody have any advice on this?
Peter
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On Tue, 30 Sep 2008, snipped-for-privacy@googlemail.com wrote:

A couple of considerations:
If you're looking for open source tool chains etc. then you could do a lot worse than Arduino/AVR with a couple of stepper drivers for the robotic smarts (Google is your friend). An Arduino is available at about $USD 26 from hvwtech.ca -- tool chains are free (gcc or Wiring) ...
As for the gantry, you might be able to use ball-bearing drawer sliders to build the framework much less expensively than with purchasing a Mindstorms kit straight up ... as such, a local surplus house or home building centre would have the parts lying around ...
given that you are likely in a sterile environment, you may not want to use wood for the base/platform construction, and other materials should be selected for their non-porous surface, and ability to clean/sterilize same ...
Similar projects would include the fab at home project, or any home build gantry mill project (scaled down -- you don't need the torque, and likely won't generate the same forces as metal cutting tools) ...
problems relate to pipette management (up/down/x/y/z) -- thumbwheel presumeably ... will still need to be addressed, but a stepper with a rubber wheel using friction could sort that out pretty simply ...
Sounds like fun -- good luck ... ---- Posted via Pronews.com - Premium Corporate Usenet News Provider ---- http://www.pronews.com offers corporate packages that have access to 100,000+ newsgroups
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snipped-for-privacy@googlemail.com wrote:

Take a look at some of the midrange lab robots:
http://www.strobotics.com / May be overkill. http://www.ijfisnar.com / They specialize in small desktop liquid-dispensing robots. http://www.robix.com Less precise, old, but might be OK - based on R/C servos.
The low-end robots that use R/C servos usually can't position repeatably enough to do this blind.
                    John Nagle
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