Singapore has pioneered a locally-made self-administered robot that is able to perform swab tests on its own, going a long way towards helping to reduce the risk of healthcare workers getting infected by COVID-19.
One firm, Biobot Surgical, a firm focusing on medical robotics technology has collaborated with clinicians from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Duke-NUS Medical School to create the SwabBot.
In a press release, the teams announced that the robot helps to reduce the need for trained manpower, ensuring the consistency of the swabs done and “providing greater throughput” of swab tests as the robot does not suffer from tiredness. Overall, this helps to overcome the restrictions of manual swab tests.
The concept for the SwabBot project began in April, with the clinical prototype ready within three months.
CEO of Biobot Surgical, Sim Kok Hwee explained that the team designed the SwabBot with the idea of having a self-swabbing machine that could be made readily available, like how self-checkout systems are now available in supermarkets. This would aid in rostered routine testing and reduce manpower needed to perform swab tests.
SWABBING PROCESS TAKES APPROXIMATELY 20 SECONDS
The SwabBot is a “self-administered” robot, which allows patients to start and stop the swabbing test on their own. When a patient is ready, they can use their chin to activate the robot and begin the swab test. The complete robotic swabbing process takes about 20 seconds.
Putting the swab in the nose, the robot then extends the swab through to the back of the nasal cavity (about 10cm in from the nostrils). In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, experts lauded the robot’s precision and efficacy.
“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.”
The press release said that the robot includes a built-in feature that retracts the swab stick if there is resistance when moving deeper into the nasal cavity. Alternatively, the person undergoing the test can stop it by moving their head away from the robot.
LOWERS RISKS TO HEALTHCARE WORKERS
The SwabBot can also benefit healthcare workers who are conducting swab tests. It allows healthcare workers to assist with the swabbing process from a safe distance. This would also reduce the COVID-19 exposure risk to healthcare workers when patients sneeze or cough during the test. It could also reduce manpower requirements as fewer healthcare staff will be needed to do the swab.
ROBOTIC SWAB TEST A PAINLESS EXPERIENCE
The team shared that as of now, 75 patients have been recruited for the ongoing clinical trial to see how robotic swabbing feels as opposed to manual swabbing done by humans.
A migrant worker admitted to Bright Vision Hospital for COVID-19 was one of those recruited for the clinical trial. 49 year old Ariata Elizer Ellevera shared that the overall experience was painless and quick.
The press release noted that SingHealth, the public healthcare cluster that NCCS and SGH are part of, has filed a patent for the technology together with Biobot Surgical.
The robot has also been registered with the Health Sciences Authority as a Class A medical device and BioBot is preparing for CE marking ahead of global commercialisation.