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Singapore testing out automated COVID-19 ‘SwabBot’

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SINGAPORE – Seeking to improve the sometimes uncomfortable process of getting a COVID-19 test, a Singapore company has developed an automated swab-testing robot which could also cut risks facing healthcare workers during the pandemic.

To use the SwabBot, a patient places their nostrils onto two disposable plastic nose pieces, which contain an extendable swab stick to collect samples from the nasal passageway.

The swab process is self-activated by pushing the chin against the machine and it has sensors to retract the swab stick if it encounters any sort of barrier or resistance.

“It’s a little bit ticklish but that’s normal … it’s a very soft, gentle form of ticklish, so it doesn’t hurt at all,” said Leo Lim, product manager at Biobot Surgical Pte Ltd, a technology company that jointly developed the SwabBot with the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS).

The SwabBot performs a self-administered nasal swab on a man during a demonstration in Singapore.
The SwabBot performs a self-administered nasal swab on a man during a demonstration in Singapore.Reuters

The SwabBot was developed to make it more efficient to conduct mass testing during the pandemic.The machine must be cleaned, maintained and refitted with swab sticks by human hands, but the rest of the 20-second swab process is automated.

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“We wanted something that would save manpower and is less risky for healthcare workers. And we really didn’t expect the response to be so overwhelming,” said Professor Tan Ngian Chye of the NCCS, one of the project’s senior consultants.

The device only exists as a prototype, but Biobot has plans to produce at least 100 units and more depending on demand.

Biobot said it does not yet have a price for the

SwabBot, but said there had been plenty of inquiries from potential clients locally and overseas.

This is not the first automated swab-testing robot; companies such as Taiwan’s Brain Navi have developed similar models.

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