Singapore’s SwabBot cuts contagion risk, boosts efficiency in Covid testing

Singapore, Sep 25 (epa-efe).- A team of experts in Singapore has designed a patient-controlled robot that can conduct nasal swab tests to detect Covid-19, reducing the risk of exposure to the virus faced by healthcare workers.

Not only does SwabBot minimize the contagion risk but, with a procedure time of around 20 seconds, it has the potential to be more efficient than manual swabbing, which can take up to twice as long.

Unlike a human health worker, the robot can work around the clock, Tan Ngian Chye, a senior consultant from the National Cancer Center Singapore and the Singapore General Hospital, which developed the machine alongside a medical tech company Biobot Surgical, told epa-efe.

“This will reduce the risk to healthcare workers in general and decrease the manpower needed so that healthcare workers can continue doing their work in hospitals,” he added.

One healthcare worker can oversee three or more SwabBots at the same time, according to the professor, and although some patients might need some basic instructions to get started, the majority will find the process intuitive.

In order to take the robotic test, a patient sits down in front of the machine and places his or her nostrils on the nose-piece, which is disposable. Using their chin, they can push against the contraption and the swabs extend into the nasal cavity to take the sample.

SwabBot is also designed to detect any resistance within the nasal cavity and will automatically retract when obstructed.

“So far, most (patients) if not all have mentioned they prefer being swabbed by the SwabBot,” Tan said. “They feel that it’s less traumatic, that it’s more comfortable, than a manual swabber.”

Leo Lim, who demonstrated the use of the machine, agreed.

“I have personally got swabbed a few times already by human hands. I feel human hands can be quite inconsistent, depending on the healthcare worker,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s quite rough, sometimes it can be quite soft. So far, SwabBot is very consistent. I just feel a tickling feeling, which is normal, but I feel totally comfortable with.”

To prevent human contact, the robot is covered by a disposable plastic sheet which, along with the nose-piece, must be changed for each patient.

Sim Kok Hwee, CEO of Biobot Surgical Pte Ltd, is aware of the environmental issues posed by SwabBot.

“In any product, in any innovation, there’s a certain balancing that you need to do,” he told epa-efe.

“As we are looking at derisking the exposure to healthcare workers, derisking on the dependency of manpower, there may be things like disposables that you have to use along the way. So it’s a balancing act that we have to manage.”

Sim said the machine had already been approved for commercial use locally and that the company expected to launch the product to a wider audience in two months.

“I think we are looking at an initial 50-100 to be launched globally based on the inquiries so far, and we hope that it can grow from there,” he said. EPA-EFE


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