I’ve been fortunate enough not to have needed a COVID-19 test yet, but my friends who have had one have described the part where they stick that swab up your nose as incredibly uncomfortable – as if the thing could touch their brains. Given the fact that you’re almost surely going to sneeze when that thing goes into your nostril, healthcare workers are exposed to significant risks every time the administer a test. While self-testing kits are helping somewhat, engineers in Korea are working on something more impressive – a special nose-swabbing robot.
A team from the Korea Institute of Machinery & Materials (KIMM), led by Dr. Joonho Seo have designed a robot that can stick the swab right up in there, move it around, and grab a sample of all of the germs without exposing any other human to potential pathogens. Similar to that thing you stick your head in at the eye doctor for the puff of air test, patients place their head against a stabilizing brace, and then a healthcare worker can guide the swab in remotely using a joystick and a special controller that guides in the swab. A monitor provides live video of the procedure, along with a graph of the force being applied.
The idea of a robot jamming a long swab into my nose and up towards my sinuses does give me some pause, though it makes me feel a little better knowing there’s a human on the other end of the line. The robot could also be used to administer other sorts of swab tests, like the ones done when you suspect strep or other illnesses, and definitely has the potential to decrease risks for frontline workers.