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Autonomous Robot Performs COVID-19 Nasal Swab Tests

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 11 Aug 2020
A new robotic system performs nasal swab tests on its own, helping to prevent cross infections among people being examined.

The Brain Navi Biotechnology (Hsinchu, Taiwan) Nasal Swab Robot (NSR) is designed to automatically, independently, recognize a patient's facial structure and identify the nostril's location, and subsequently take a sample of nasal secretions. The target population are suspected cases of whooping cough, diphtheria, influenza, and other types of diseases caused by the coronavirus family of viruses, including SARS, MERS, and COVID-19. The NSR is equipped with a compact robotic arm and display screen mounted on a wheeled trolley.

The NSR autonomously takes nasal samples (Photo courtesy of Brain Navi Biotechnology)
The NSR autonomously takes nasal samples (Photo courtesy of Brain Navi Biotechnology)

The procedure is based on three-dimensional imaging to identify facial and nasal characteristics, without the use of external frames, in order to move through nostrils, twirl the swab to collect a nasopharyngeal swab sample, remove it, and place it in a vial. With the aid of NSR, suspect patients can be tested safely around the clock, sparing medical health care workers the need to done personal protective equipment (PPE) and enter the high-risk environment during sample collecting. NSR could also allow autonomous specimen collection in airports, borders, drive-ins, or medical institutions.

“The SARS outbreak 17 years ago was a profound experience, but also left me deep wounds after losing a dear friend while we were saving lives. So, I decided to develop a robot to help save lives and be the first human to test NSR,” said Jerry Chen, MD, CEO of Brain Navi Biotechnology. “We feel the suffering of thousands of colleagues and patients worldwide with the pandemic. So, we developed the NSR in just eight weeks. We took some essential functions of our Autopilot Brain Surgical Navigation Robot.”

Testing for COVID-19 involves inserting a 15 centimeter long swab into the nasopharyngeal space, a cavity between the nose and mouth for 15 seconds, and rotating it several times. The swabbing is then repeated on the other side of the nose to make sure enough material is collected. The swab is then inserted into a container and sent to a lab for testing.

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