Clinicians in Singapore develop robot for faster COVID-19 nasal swabbing

SwabBot is a self-administered robot which allows individuals being swabbed to activate and terminate the swabbing process at will.
By Dean Koh
03:15 AM

Credit: NCCS

A group of clinicians from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Duke-NUS Medical School has partnered Biobot Surgical Pte Ltd, a local company which focuses on medical robotics solutions, to develop a robot that automates nasal swabbing needed to diagnose COVID-19. Nasal swab is the preferred method of gathering the specimen as it gives the best yield for processing by laboratory.


SwabBot is a self-administered robot which allows individuals being swabbed to activate and terminate the swabbing process at will. When ready, they use their chin to activate the robot and begin the swabbing process. The robot extends the swab safely and gently through the nose to the back of the nasal cavity, which is typically about 10cm from the nostrils.

To ensure the safety of the individual, the robot has a built-in feature, which retracts the swab stick if there is resistance when moving deeper into the nasal cavity. In the unlikely case that the individual is unable to tolerate the process, they can terminate it by moving their head away from the robot.


The robot was born to help address the limitations of manual COVID-19 swabbing by reducing swabbers’ risk of exposure to the virus, reducing the need for trained manpower, standardizing the consistency of swabs taken and providing greater throughput of swab tests. This is because the robot does not get tired and remains efficient. The duration of the test is just 20 seconds from start to finish.

To date, 75 SGH and Bright Vision Hospital patients have been recruited for the ongoing clinical trial comparing SwabBot to manual swabbing done by humans.


The project was initiated in April 2020, by a diverse group of clinicians from numerous specialties, including Head & Neck Surgery, Vascular Surgery, Internal Medicine and Otorhinolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. The team identified the need to perform nasal swabs for COVID-19 safely, quickly and consistently, in order to reduce swabbers’ risk of exposure and improve patient experience. Working with BioBot, the clinicians took about three months to develop the concept into a clinical prototype.

SingHealth, the public healthcare cluster which NCCS and SGH are part of, has filed a patent for this technology together with Biobot Surgical Pte Ltd. SwabBot has been registered with the Health Science Authority as a Class A medical device and BioBot is in preparation for CE marking for global commercialization.


Back in August, Taiwan’s Brain Navi also developed a similar Nasal Swab Robot, which uses some fundamental functions of NaoTrac, a neurosurgical navigation robot, also developed by the same company, MobiHealthNews reported. The Brain Navi Nasal Swab Robot was presented in public for the first time during the Bio Asia Taiwan 2020 exhibition at the end of July.


Principal Investigator Dr Rena Dharmawan, Associate Consultant in Head and Neck Surgery, Division of Surgery and Surgical Oncology at NCCS, and Clinical Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Centre of Technology & Development (CTeD) at Duke-NUS Medical School, said, “Our team felt that we had to find a better way to swab patients to reduce the risk of exposure of COVID-19 to our healthcare workers, especially when patients sneeze or cough, during the swabbing process.”

“With SwabBot, healthcare workers can assist with the swabbing process from a safe distance. It also helps to optimize resources as fewer healthcare workers are needed to do the swab collection, and less Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is utilized,” said Dr Rena who is also an alumnus of Duke-NUS.

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