For the past several years we have been involved in the development of remote and automated access to imaging instrumentation and the overall project is known as the World Wide Laboratory (WWL) . There are a number of advantages to providing remote access to imaging instrumentation. First, it provides access to unique and/or expensive instruments without requiring the user to be physically present at the site of the instrument. In addition it provides the opportunity for collaboration and/or consultation with researchers anywhere in the world thus providing for a network of distributed expertise. Finally, this technology presents unprecedented opportunities for education and training. These opportunities might otherwise be limited only to those institutions with the means to support expensive and unique instruments.
We propose that there are at least six ways in which remote access technology can be used in practice:
Service: In the service mode a local operator can consult with a remotely located principal researcher providing the specimen and who would provide input as to the quality of the images and the parameters to be used to acquire data. This mode is extremely important for extending service capabilities at the National Research Resources.
Collaborative: In the collaboration mode the principal researcher using the instrument can consult with other experts from around the world.
Education and Training: Imaging instruments can be made accessible in the classroom for K-12 education and undergraduate and graduate training.
Remote Research: The instrument can be used by a remote researcher with minimal local operator intervention.
Automated Control: The instrument can be used by a remote researcher and functions normally performed manually by a local operator are performed automatically by a computer system.
Intelligent control: An intelligent system can perform the same functions as an operator and can learn from the researcher's experience.
In this paper we will discuss our experience with the WWL project and some specific examples which we believe demonstrate the ideas behind a successful collaboratory . We will address some of the issues involved in providing remote and automated access to instrumentation and its advantages to various categories of users.