COVID-19: Singapore develops robot for swab tests


Singapore has developed a robot that carries out nasal swabbing to diagnose COVID-19, in a bid to reduce healthcare workers’ risk of exposure to the deadly coronavirus.

Clinicians from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) have partnered with Biobot Surgical, a firm specialising in medical robotics technology, to develop the SwabBot, Channel News Asia reported.

The self-administered robot, that automates the taking of COVID-19 swab tests, will help reduce healthcare workers’ risk of exposure to the coronavirus, it said.

The robot helps address the limitations of manual COVID-19 swab tests by reducing the need for trained manpower, standardising the consistency of the swabs taken and “providing greater throughput” of swab tests as the robot does not suffer from fatigue, the three groups said in a statement.

The SwabBot is a “self-administered” robot, meaning patients can activate and terminate the process at will. When a patient is ready, they can use their chin to activate the robot and start the swabbing process.

The robot then extends the swab through the nose to the back of the nasal cavity, which is typically about 10cm from the nostrils.

“Even after many swabs, it retains the same gentle touch and precision as surgeons who perform very delicate procedures,” said Dr Luke Tay, a consultant with the Department of Vascular Surgery at SGH.

“Furthermore, the sample quality remains consistent even though nose structures can vary in size and shapes,” said Dr Tay.

Meanwhile, Singapore recorded 31 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, including nine imported infections, taking the country’s caseload to 57,607, the Ministry of Health said in its daily preliminary report.

All imported cases had been placed on stay-home notice (SHN) upon their arrival in Singapore, it said, adding that rest of the cases were migrant workers living in dormitories while there was no case from the community.

The four imported cases, reported on Sunday, came from the Philippines, Iran and Germany between September 8-15. They have been put under a 14-day SHN.

The Sunday’s sole case from the community, a foreigner on work permit, was detected during the rostered routine testing of workers in the construction, marine and process sectors who are staying outside the dormitories, and was picked up even though he was asymptomatic.

With 39 patients discharged from hospital on Sunday, 57,181 have fully recovered from the infection, said the health ministry.

Currently, 30 patients are in hospital and 338 at community facilities.