When the pandemic hit, mass testing was one of Singapore’s key strategies to help contain the virus. According to a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, one in every three Singaporeans got tested for COVID-19. But despite (or because of) this upstanding medical response, frontliners were put at a higher risk of catching the virus, as they remained in close proximity to patients who are potentially COVID-19 positive.
This is why Singapore developed a way to make swab tests as safe as possible for both patients and medical frontliners – using robots to facilitate swab tests with patients without the assistance of medical staff.
The SwabBot was developed by clinicians from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Duke-NUS Medical School, in collaboration with medical robotics company Biobot Surgical. Patients just have to latch their nostrils onto the robot’s disposable nosepiece to get started. Once they are comfortable, the SwabBot will extend the swab towards the patient’s nostrils, into their nasal cavity, and rotate gently to get a sample. The whole process takes about 20 seconds which is half as long as manual swab tests. A staff member will then open the machine and collect the samples and sanitize the robot.
But if you’re worried about any possible discomfort during the procedure, don’t worry as the SwabBot has built in sensors that allows it to automatically withdraw itself if it meets any resistance in the nasal cavity. The patient can also simply remove their head from the device if they start to feel uncomfortable. For safety and hygiene purposes, the bot is also covered with plastic, which is replaced after every test along with the nosepiece, and the whole bot including its interior is wiped clean after each use.
The creation of the robot is definitely a step forward in protecting our medical frontliners from the virus. According to the team behind it, patients may sometimes cough or sneeze during swab tests, which can put the medical practitioners at risk. But aside from this, the SwabBot also makes the whole process more comfortable for patients as they will have full control over the swab test as they can activate the bot whenever they are ready and stop it anytime they start to feel discomfort, which is a unique feature of Singapore’s SwabBot from swab test robots from other countries.
See the SwabBot in action in this video from Channel News Asia (CNA):
Want to see the SwabBot in your country? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Photos from Reuters.