New medical robot performs COVID-19 nose swab tests

This robot does nose swab testing for COVID-19.
Image: KIMM

It’s no secret that the testing process for COVID-19 isn’t enjoyable. Patients must sit still while a medical worker sticks a long cotton swab up their nose as far as it can go. Now, a team of researchers has created a robot to help automate the unpleasant task.

Of course, the process also looks terrifying.

Researchers hope that, despite the optics, their robot will become a useful part of the COVID-19 testing process. By letting medical workers carry out a test from afar, it decreases their risk of being exposed to the virus.

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The new COVID-19 testing bot comes from the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM). It braces itself against the patient’s face much like a contraption found at the eye doctor. With the patient in place, a technician controls the robot from another room or from behind a barrier.

“This technology allows samples to be retrieved from persons presenting symptoms of high-risk diseases even without direct contact,” says KIMM’s Dr. Joonho Seo.

He adds, “I expect it to be useful in the screening of high-risk diseases like COVID-19, and hope it will contribute to the safety and well-being of medical personnel during pandemics and epidemics.”

During the testing process, the technician is able to see a live video feed to guide their approach. It also has video and audio links between the patient and the operator for easy communication.

One of the most impressive features is force feedback. It allows the technician to “feel” what they are doing. This helps ensure the swap gets to the right place while also lowering the risk of injury to the patient.

Hospital Automation

Although it might seem futuristic, this is far from the first instance of robots being used in the medical setting. In fact, the nose swabbing robot is just the latest in a long line of bots designed to help hospitals run more efficiently and safely. During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, people have been looking for new ways to keep staff members safe by using robots.

For instance, Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot has been used to help triage patients at a Boston Hospital. The automated quadruped carries communication equipment, allowing physicians and other healthcare workers to interact with patients from afar.

Meanwhile, an AI-powered robot from Rutgers University is able to insert IVs and draw blood samples on its own. It uses ultrasound imaging, artificial intelligence, and robotic stabilization to complete the procedure without the guesswork.

As hospitals continue to enforce strict visitation limits to try and curb the spread of the virus, other robots are tasked with caring for the mental health of isolated patients. Also powered by AI, the Paro robot looks like a baby harp seal. It interacts with patients to keep their spirits up during otherwise lonely hospital stays.

Although some argue that involving robots with healthcare dehumanizes the field, the opposite is true. If robots are able to provide better or safer care in certain areas, they should be utilized to their fullest potential. That leaves human healthcare workers with more time to provide holistic care for their patients.

As the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, innovations like this nose swabbing bot demonstrate the benefits that await at the intersection of tech and medicine.

Of course, if you don’t want to have a robot shove a cotton swap up your nose, you can always just put on a mask when going out in public.


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