Automated Robot Takes Swabs for Safe Covid-19 Testing
Testing people for COVID-19 typically involves performing a throat swab to collect a sample for processing. Clinicians performing this task have to wear a complete package of personal protective equipment (PPE), something that can be very uncomfortable over long periods of time. Moreover, since sampling is now widely performed outside of a clinical facility and the weather is hitting summer temperatures in the northern hemisphere, the discomfort for clinical staff can be harrowing. Now, a team of robotics engineers at the University of Southern Denmark have developed a device that can automatically perform throat swabs without a human clinician being in the vicinity.
The robot reaches into the throat and moves a swab against the selected tissue within. Once the sample is collected, it deposits the swab into a glass jar and screws its top closed.
Performing the procedure requires a good deal of dexterity, to be sure that the patient is not injured. The robot was trained to be gentle and the few people that have already volunteered to be swabbed by it report no discomfort. Being associated with the lab that developed the robot probably also helped them reduce any fear of possible malfunction. Further trials will need to confirm the utility of the new device.
To help commercialize and manufacture the new robot, the engineers that developed it have started up a company called Lifeline Robotics. They hope to have devices out testing people for COVID-19 as early as late June, but the technology will certainly be of use even when the pandemic is over.
Here’s a couple videos showing off the new robot and the developers discussing the technology: