Made-in-S’pore Robots Might Be Used to Do COVID-19 Swab Tests in the Future

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In 2019, this is a cotton swab that we used to clean our ears, though we really shouldn’t do that:

Image: ACW Tactical

Now, when we see this, we’d be reminded of another swab: the nasopharyngeal swab. It looks meaner, longer and definitely less comfortable:

Image: NYT

Lest you’re not aware, for a PCR test for COVID-19, a healthcare professional will insert that stick into your nose to dig for something within your hose, and that “something” will be sent to a lab for processing. This explains you’ve been reading about “admin errors” recently that caused the total number of cases to change—it’s because the process take quite a while, from the swab all the way to the final results in the lab.

You can watch this video to understand more about the two types of COVID-19 tests (and also subscribe to our YouTube channel for more informative and entertaining videos!):

However, for the layman, we’d only experience the swab test, and it’s always been done by faceless people in yellow:

Image: techgraph.co

Because Mark Zuckerberg is going to take over the world with his team of robots from Mars, it’s therefore no surprise that even the process of doing the swab test might be automated in the future.

Made-in-S’pore Robots Might Be Used to Do COVID-19 Swab Tests in the Future

Over in China, robots have been used to do the swab test, but that’s operated by healthcare professional.

However, this new robot developed in Singapore is a tad different: it’s a lot more comfortable because the patient is the one controlling the process.

Wait, what?

Image: Cheezburger

Called SwabBot, it’s developed by clinicians from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH), in collaboration with medical robotics company Biobot Surgical.

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It works like an eye examination, or like an x-ray for your teeth: you merely sit in front of the machine and activate it yourself.

Once activated, the nasopharyngeal swab will then do its job of moving automatically through your nose. At any point, if you feel uncomfortable and move away, or even resist by beating up the machine (highly not recommended), it’ll withdraw the stick.

Usually, it takes a few minutes for a manual swab to be completed, but this machine can do the swab in 20 seconds.

Image: National Cancer Centre Singapore

One of the key advantages if of course the prevention of cross infection between patients and healthcare staff, but since it’s essentially a machine replacing a human’s job, you’d wonder: would it really be more comfortable?

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According to some guinea pigs people who’ve gone through the test, yes, it does.

An undergraduate from NUS went through the test and said, “I found the robot more comfortable because you can (turn it on) whenever you are ready. So things are within your control. I was worried when I did the manual one because I was wondering if the swabber’s hand will be shaky.”


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Right, a machine is always better.

Another volunteer said, “I felt pretty comfortable throughout the process. Compared to my past swabbing experience I had with human hands, the process with the SwabBot was faster and less painful.”

So far, 75 SGH and Bright Vision Hospital patients have been recruited for the ongoing clinical trial comparing SwabBot to manual swabbing done by humans.

Remember back in May, the Health Minister said that Singapore plans to conduct 40,000 tests a day?

Well, at least one problem is solved: manpower for swabbers.


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