The mobile application for real-time spectrometric analysis.

The NIRLab project started as a research project by our client Florentin Coppey, a doctorate student in the UNIL forensic laboratory. The objective of the project is to use recent advances in near-infrared spectrometry (NIR) to significantly reduce the time and burden of substance analysis.

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An innovative project awarded two prizes

The NIRLab® project won two major awards at the Best of Swiss Apps 2020, a Gold award in the Enterprise category and a second Silver award in the Innovation category.

Prix best of swiss apps 2020 pour Nirlab Innovation et entreprise

Analysis time reduced to just a few seconds

Near infrared spectrometry only requires a sensor the size of a flashlight and a smartphone, unlike existing methods that require a full range of laboratory equipment.

The analysis time to determine the nature and purity of a drug is reduced from two weeks (the substances need to be sent to the laboratory) to less than 10 seconds for the analysis by the spectrometer and real-time automatic data processing.

A concept that can be extended to other fields of activity

The system works equally well for the identification of hard drugs (cocaine, heroin, etc.) and cannabis (THC or CBD), but its implementation can be extended to other types of substances and therefore be applied to a variety of uses.

The first version of the NIRLab® application was specifically developed for the analysis of illicit substances by law enforcement. But, since the beginning of the project, the scope of the technology has been extended through partnerships with companies that are active in plastic recycling, chemistry and even asbestos removal.

Matthieu and Malik test the scanning feature

Setting up a sample

Taking measurements on the generic app

Measuring on the NIRLab forensic app

The near infrared beam is visible on the reflection

The app analyzes the measurement in real time....

... and proposes a result.

Our mission

Apptitude’s mission in this project was to develop the entire digital infrastructure while Florentin, our client, focused on the formulation and improvement of substance detection algorithms.

This included connecting to the spectrometer from a desktop computer or mobile application, sending data to the analysis server containing the algorithms, saving results and generating automated reports, as well as contextualizing the results through the mobile application for fieldwork purposes.

A flexible brand image

We developed a visual identity for NIRLab® inspired by imagery and colors that appeal to the world of forensic science and used a sleek & subtle typography that evokes the light rays at the heart of the product’s spectrometric technology.

The color scheme was studied in such a way that it could be quickly adapted for new versions that more accurately corresponded to new fields of use as the project grew.

Ergonomics and user experience

As far as the design of mobile ergonomics is concerned, our focus was on usability. In this context, the measurements must be carried out as quickly as possible and in a minimum number of steps. The conceptualization was therefore done in a group setting and prioritizing the mobility of the system.

During this phase, we involved the customer, developers, and designers to create an “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product) quickly. This initial product gave us the opportunity to obtain user feedback on the main functionalities of the system, and thus, to refine its functionalities as it was iterated and refined.

AppStore publishing

The publishing of the NIRLab® application on Apple’s AppStore is an interesting case in point. It should be noted that Apple has very strict rules regarding applications intended to be published in their store. The first requirement is that any iPhone user must be able to use the application, with the ability to create an account directly from the application if required.

Obviously, an application intended for use of law enforcement or in an industrial setting should not allow access to a common user. Fortunately, since the application works with a portable spectrometer costing several thousand francs, we were able to restrict the use of the application to the owners of this device while respecting Apple’s rules.

App Store preview

From a research project to a digital product

The collaboration with Florentin on the NIRLab® project was quite unusual because he developed his algorithms in the same code base as the analysis server developed by Apptitude. This made it possible for us to share our expertise with him while familiarizing his team with the system so that they could make changes independently once the development by Apptitude was completed.

Once the prototype stage was completed and the development stage became more consistent, we naturally adopted the SCRUM method, very popular in the software development field, to consolidate the rest of our work and better integrate our client’s needs and vision.

Our close collaboration with Florentin has led us to entrust him directly with the role of Product Owner, the person responsible for defining and prioritizing the product’s functionalities.

A few words from the NIRLab team

From my first meeting with Apptitude, I was drawn to their relaxed attitude and technical expertise. This initial feeling was not denied later. I particularly appreciated the sound advice on technological choices, as well as the speed and quality of their work.

Apptitude has shown exemplary responsiveness in order to present convincing demos during the various phases of the project’s financing. Finally, the pleasant collaboration with the development team allowed me to get to grips with the basics of the code and to develop new skills with respect to the technologies used.

Florentin Coppey
Founder and Director, NIRLab®