Mobile Apps Conquering Research Labs

Labfolder, a Spin-off of Freie Universität Berlin, Releases New Mobile Application

Mar 18, 2014

Mit einer App können Forschungsdaten mobil erfasst werden.
Research data can be recorded with the labfolder mobile app. Image Credit: labfolder

The Berlin-based labfolder GmbH released its free mobile app which allows scientists to use their iPhones, smartphones, tablets, and iPads as digital lab notebooks, making it easier to record research data from mobile devices. Worldwide 1,500 scientists are using the cloud-based digital lab book, labfolder, in the beta version to document their research.

Notes, photos, annotations, and sketches recorded with the labfolder mobile app are seamlessly transferred into the digital lab notebook. Likewise, notes, descriptions of experiments, and results can be retrieved at all places in the laboratory and outside. Unlike most generic apps, labfolder follows the guidelines for good scientific practice: All entries are provided with a timestamp and a full audit trail.

Mobile apps like Evernote and similar tools are essential for many people, both in personal and professional life. Scientists have an increasing need for mobile note-taking. Whether measurements should be recorded during a time-critical experiment, whether a plant or animal needs to be documented in the field, or whether notes should be taken in a lecture at a scientific conference - the mobile recording and organization of data facilitates scientific work.

In most laboratories paper notebooks are still used for documentation and archiving of important results. However, an increasing number of scientists are using generic notebook and photo apps to collect data digitally. Problems can arise when the information from various sources has to be merged in one system. The data have to be searchable and accessible to colleagues and team leaders. At the same time, they need to be documented in line with the guidelines of good scientific practice. When it comes to the documentation of research results that must be patent resilient, apps for personal or office use often cannot satisfy the requirements and guidelines.

"The development of mobile apps in a strictly regulated environment is not straightforward," states Mathias Schäffner, CTO and co-founder of labfolder. “Versioning, conserving original raw data in image annotations, saving annotation in different layers, and many other features need to be implemented to follow documentation guidelines for research. This can become a challenge for developers, in particular if you want to provide usability and performance."

In spite of the growing impact of mobile apps on personal life, many industries still struggle to implement the benefits of mobile devices into their work environments. Research institutes, universities, and research-driven companies need to catch up - impressively shown by the fact that in most laboratories, paper notebooks are still being used for documentation and archiving of scientific results.

"The mobile device as a universal instrument to measure and to collect data will soon become reality," says Dr. Simon Bungers, CEO and co-founder of labfolder. "Apps that turn a smart phone into a Geiger counter are currently more fun apps than serious applications. However, envisioning the combination of a mobile app and hardware extensions for the device, such as thermometers or pipettes, provides an exciting perspective on a more precise and more reliable era of laboratory research."

Additionally, the increasing interfacing capabilities of laboratory equipment such as microscopes, spectrometers, pH meters, and others to transfer measurements and other data into the laboratory notebooks of a researcher via WiFi, will contribute to a more efficient future of research.

"Even though this appears to be a small step: if you take into account that the development of a new drug usually takes several years to decades, you can imagine what impact it has to save a few months by a modern, digital, and mobile data infrastructure. The benefits become obvious not only from a scientific point of view and for economic reasons, but also from the perspective of the people who need new drugs urgently," concludes Florian Hauer, COO and co-founder of labfolder.

The scientist-entrepreneurs from Berlin complemented their web application by native apps for mobile devices operating under Android and iOS. The spin-off of Freie Universität Berlin won an EXIST fellowship for founders from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology and was supported by profund, the entrepreneurship office of Freie Universität Berlin.