Faster Covid-19 swab tests with locally made robot

Dr Luke Tay, a consultant at SGH who was part of the team that developed the robot, demonstrating how a patient would position himself when undergoing a swab test done by the SwabBot.
Dr Luke Tay, a consultant at SGH who was part of the team that developed the robot, demonstrating how a patient would position himself when undergoing a swab test done by the SwabBot.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

A robot that carries out nasal swabbing to diagnose Covid-19 has been developed by clinicians who say the automated procedure is safer, faster and more comfortable compared with manual swab tests.

The clinicians said the robot, called SwabBot, is the first in the world that allows patients to fully control the swab process.

Patients can activate and terminate the test at will.

A patient sits in front of the robot, similar to how he would take a mechanised eye examination.

After he activates the robot, the swab will extend from the machine and into his nose to the back of the nasal cavity, which is typically about 10cm from the nostrils. The process takes 20 seconds, which is faster than a manual swab test.

The machine was developed by clinicians from the National Cancer Centre Singapore, Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Duke-NUS Medical School, in partnership with medtech company Biobot Surgical.

The team said the robot can address the limitations and risks of manual swabbing. These include reducing swabbers' risk of exposure and the need for training people.

The clinicians also wanted to make the swabbing procedure more comfortable for patients.

Although some find a typical swab test very uncomfortable, it is generally painless. There may be some degree of discomfort or ticklishness, and patients may feel like sneezing or coughing during the process. Some patients may tear up as well.

 
 

To date, a total of 85 patients from SGH and Bright Vision Hospital as well as volunteers have participated in the ongoing clinical trial that compares SwabBot against manual swabbing.

All the participants said the procedure with the robot was either equally or less painful compared with getting a manual swab.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2020, with the headline 'Faster swab tests with locally made robot'. Print Edition | Subscribe