cubuslab, a start-up company that was spun off from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in March 2015, has developed a technology to connect different types of laboratory equipment, from precision balances to analytical instruments. The technology is aimed at automating workflows and connecting and storing data in an electronic laboratory notebook.
Many life scientists are all too well aware of the following scenario: before being able to get on with their next experiment and start producing new results, they have to write protocols, enter data and glue photos and graphics into a laboratory book. A way of documenting scientific research that seems decidedly old-fashioned in an era when modern laboratories are equipped with a large number of high-tech devices. The drawbacks are obvious: it's time-consuming, likely to cause data transcription errors, and data are only available at a single location. Accessing data rapidly from different computers to show to colleagues is simply not possible. In today's digital era, there ought to be a more effective way of doing things. This is where the start-up from Karlsruhe comes in.
“Most laboratory equipment comes with excellent hardware and an interface. However, no software yet exists for automatically transferring scientific data into laboratory notebooks,” explains Martin Langer, CEO and co-founder of cubuslab. “We are now trying to make this possible. The solution we are working on is addressed at different devices or a particular network with digital interfaces. These devices can then be monitored, remotely controlled and data retrieved from them. The data can be visualised in real time and made directly available in an electronic laboratory notebook. This eliminates manual documentation and time-consuming data transfer.” cubuslab is developing the electronic laboratory notebook in cooperation with the Institute of Toxicology and Genetics (ITC) at the KIT (Campus North). It comes with a reaction planner, a molecule- and well-plate designer and a structural and sample database.
The heart of the new technology is the so-called connector, which is roughly credit-card sized and is simply inserted into the interface of a laboratory device, which is then connected to a server in the cubuslab cloud or in the client’s local network, with no need for Internet access. The server transfers the data to a computer or tablet, according to user preference. This is possible as the actual user interface is browser-based.
The technology is bi-directional: all data from connected devices are acquired and visualised in real time, and connected devices can also be remotely controlled from a PC. This enables accurate monitoring of workflows and automation of various processes. The cubuslab system is compatible with any device that has a digital interface, independent of protocol or manufacturer. In principle, it is therefore possible to connect all devices in a laboratory with each other. “We already have a large number of plug and play devices in our portfolio. They become part of a network within seconds,” says Langer.
cubuslab can programme and deliver the required software very quickly. The company can also integrate relatively complex devices such as real-time PCR systems and analytical instruments that are by default connected to a computer and which come with their own analysis software. The connected device then displays on the cubuslab desktop where it can be selected and operated using the known device software. The software manufacturer's data are imported into the cubuslab system.
The automatic transmission of data does away with typical errors such as typographical errors or incomplete documentation. “The whole process is more accurate. Moreover, user authentication also renders countersigning manually entered data unnecessary, something that is normally required when filing patent applications or with work carried out under GLP and GMP conditions. Our technology saves time, effort and money,” says Martin Langer highlighting the advantages of his company’s technology. The cubuslab technology is specifically designed to be used in laboratories at research institutions and in industry. However, it is also of interest for resellers who want to sell the technology, as well as device manufacturers seeking to add functionality to their devices. “We are involved in a number of development projects and are interested in finding new partners,” says Langer.
The foundations of the cubuslab technology were laid when the company’s founder and CEO Dominik Lütjohann did his doctoral thesis which involved developing a programme to automatically transfer balance data into an electronic laboratory notebook. Towards the end of his PhD, Lütjohann was considering setting up his own company. All he needed was a suitable partner to complement his technical expertise with knowledge in business administration and marketing. He met the person he was looking for at one of the monthly Founder BBQs organised by the KIT’s Center for Entrepreneurship (CIE) in Karlsruhe. Martin Langer, who studied industrial engineering at KIT, brought on board his experience in company foundation, marketing and sales which he gained with enactus, a group that helps students develop entrepreneurial skills and thinking. It took the founders just a few months to develop a business plan, prepare a successful EXIST funding application, look for additional funding and recruit Julian Lübke, a graphic designer, front-end developer who is an industrial engineering student at KIT. cubuslab GmbH was established in March 2015.
The cubuslab technology is currently being tested by several pilot clients and the founders hope that their electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) software for the automatic acquisition of scientific data will be ready by 2016. The software will be available free of charge to universities.