Taiwan invents 1st coronavirus-testing robot

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In an effort to better protect frontline medical personnel from the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), a Taiwanese company has developed what it calls the “first-in-human” robot that can autonomously apply swab tests to patients.

At the Bio Asia Taiwan 2020 exhibition at the Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center on July 23, Taiwan medtech startup Brain Navi (鈦隼生物科技) demonstrated its Nasal Swab Robot to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). According to the company’s website, the new device utilizes technology from its NaoTrac neurosurgical navigation robot to autonomously navigate and collect patient samples for the coronavirus.

The machine makes use of automated technology used to carry out brain surgery to carefully place the swab. The robot does so by employing facial recognition technology to locate the position of the nostrils and the ear to estimate the depth of the nasal canal.

In a video uploaded by the firm, the company’s founder and CEO Jerry Chen (陳階曉) first attaches a clip to his nose as one of the key reference points for the machine. Next, he places his forehead against the chin holder and grips the bars below to maintain stability.

The robot then prepares a swab and slowly starts to insert it into Chen’s nostril as it adjusts the angle and depth based on its scan of his face. It then gently twists the swab for 10 seconds to obtain an optimal sample.

Lastly, it retracts the swab and places it into the machine for testing. According to Brain Navi, the test is completed within five minutes, as opposed to 15 minutes when applied by a human, including the time needed to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

The device has been tested in 15 human trial cases at the Hualien Tzu-Chi Medical Center, according to the company’s Facebook page. Brain Navi claims that it is “the only autopilot nasal swab testing robot” and that its autonomous functions will help reduce staff-patient contact with the highly contagious virus.

The robot has received approval from the Ministry of Health and Welfare for clinical human trials in Taiwan. The company is also applying for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) with the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as its Taiwanese counterpart.

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