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Covid-19: Robot developed in S'pore does nasal swabbing, reducing infection risk to healthcare workers

SINGAPORE — A robot developed in Singapore that allows patients to self-administer the nasal swabbing needed to diagnose Covid-19, thereby reducing the risk of infecting healthcare workers, was unveiled on Monday (Sept 21).

Covid-19: Robot developed in S'pore does nasal swabbing, reducing infection risk to healthcare workers

Patients will be able to use the SwabBot device to administer Covid-19 nasal swabs on themselves.

SINGAPORE — A robot developed in Singapore that allows patients to self-administer the nasal swabbing needed to diagnose Covid-19, thereby reducing the risk of infecting healthcare workers, was unveiled on Monday (Sept 21).

A group of clinicians from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Duke-NUS Medical School partnered Biobot Surgical Pte Ltd, one of Singapore’s pioneers in the field of medical robotics technology, to develop the robot named SwabBot.

SwabBot was created to help address the limitations of manual Covid-19 swabbing by reducing swabbers’ risk of exposure to the virus, reducing the need for trained manpower, standardising the consistency of swabs taken and increasing the rate of swab tests, they said in a statement.

Using the robot, a nasal swab test takes 20 seconds from start to finish and it is the preferred method of gathering the specimen as it gives the best yield for processing by the laboratory.

The statement explained that SwabBot is a self-administered robot which allows individuals being swabbed to activate and terminate the swabbing process at will.

When the individual is ready, they will use their chin to activate the robot and begin the swabbing process. The robot will then extend the swab safely and gently through the nose to the back of the nasal cavity, which is about 10cm from the nostrils.

To ensure the safety of the patient, the robot has a built-in feature, which retracts the swab stick if there is resistance when moving deeper into the nasal cavity. In the unlikely case that the patient is unable to tolerate the process, they can terminate it by moving their head away from the robot.

The project was initiated in April by a diverse group of clinicians from numerous specialties who identified the need to perform nasal swabs for Covid-19 safely, quickly and consistently, in order to reduce swabbers’ risk of exposure and improve patient experience. They collaborated with Biobot Surgical to develop the concept into a clinical prototype within three months.

Principal Investigator Dr Rena Dharmawan, Associate Consultant in Head and Neck Surgery, Division of Surgery and Surgical Oncology at NCCS, and Clinical Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Centre of Technology & Development (CTeD) at DukeNUS Medical School, said: “Our team felt that we had to find a better way to swab patients to reduce the risk of exposure of Covid-19 to our healthcare workers, especially when patients sneeze or cough, during the swabbing process.”

“With SwabBot, healthcare workers can assist with the swabbing process from a safe distance. It also helps to optimise resources as fewer healthcare workers are needed to do the swab collection, and less personal protective equipment is utilised,” said Dr Rena.

The robot is undergoing clinical testing and has been registered with the Health Sciences Authority ahead of plans to sell the product around the world.

In response to TODAY’s queries, an NCCS spokesperson said there is no exact date yet on when the device would be ready for patients, adding that it is suitable to be used in places such as dormitories and airports where mass testing may be needed.

Related topics

swab test robot SwabBot Technology coronavirus Covid-19

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