A robot that is able to take throat swabs from coronavirus patients using a 3D printed arm was developed by a team of researchers from Denmark in just four weeks.
The University of Southern Denmark says the world's first fully automated throat swab robot will be be able to test the first COVID-19 patients by late June.
Using disposable 3D printed parts, the robot holds a swab and hits the exact spot in the throat where a sample needs to be collected every time.
It puts the swab in a glass and screws the lid on to seal the sample without human input - reducing the risk of exposing healthcare workers to the deadly virus.
A team of ten researchers for the Industry 4.0 Lab at the University of Southern Denmark worked around the clock to produce the prototype of the robot.
They said the goal was to create something that would reduce the risk of infection for healthcare staff when carrying out throat swabs.
Professor Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu of SDU Robotics, developed the robot after talking to healthcare workers - it was his first project after COVID-19 appeared.
He was also the first person to test the robot, saying 'It went really well. I’m still sitting here'.
'I was surprised at how softly the robot managed to land the swab at the spot in the throat where it was supposed to hit, so it was a huge success,' he added.
Savarimuthu said he hopes the robot will be able to take over the throat swabbing work both in relation to COVID-19, but also in all future viruses.
The team worked with researchers from Odense University Hospital in developing the robot to ensure it hit the right spot in the back of the throat of patients.
OUH Director, Kim Brixen said the throat swab robot presents a great advantage over medical staff as it won't get sick, tired or bored of the monotonous work.
'Currently, healthcare professionals are carrying out throat swabs for Covid-19; but working conditions can be a challenge,' Brixen said.
'The task entails long working days of monotonous work. 'At the same time, the employees are in great demand in other functions.'
Large scale testing is a major part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic and in allowing communities to re-open from lockdown measures.
'The robot has great potential for mass screening for Covid-19 in the healthcare sector, but also in connection with border control or at airports,' said Brixen.
'At the same time, we see that regular flu seems to have decreased during the lockdown. This may imply that we may need to rethink our strategy against the flu.'
The challenge for the team now is to scale up the development and find investors that will allow them to have it ready for any second wave of the virus.
They are starting to find people to make it a reality and the university says that if everything goes according to plan, 'the robot will be swabbing the first patient’s throat in a month'.
'The Covid-19 pandemic abounds. The ambition is, therefore, that we must get on the market as soon as possible,' said Søren Stig, director of Lifeline robotics, the company working on a public release of the device.
'The plan is that we have a prototype that swabs patients by the end of June, and that the robot is completed and ready for the market this fall when the second Covid-19 wave hits,' said Stig
'Everyone on the team is working incredibly hard. If our plan holds, we will have achieved in 3-4 months what usually takes three years.'