AM in the time of COVID-19AM IndustryRobotics

3D printed robot swabs patients’ throats for Covid-19

Developed by researchers at the University of Southern Denmark using a Universal Robots arm

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Robotics researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have developed the world’s first fully automatic robot to carry out throat swabs for Covid-19. The 3D printed robot swabs (perhaps even using 3D printed swabs) the patients so that healthcare professionals are not exposed to the risk of infection. The prototype has successfully performed throat swabs on several people and is now set to go into operation by late June.

With a 3D printed, specially designed disposable tool, the robot holds a swab and hits the exact spot in the throat from which the sample is to be collected. Subsequently, the robot puts the swab into a glass and screws the lid on to seal the sample. And the researchers have tested the robot.

Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu is in charge of the team of ten researchers working around the clock in the Industry 4.0 Lab at the University of Southern Denmark to develop the prototype as quickly as possible. “We have successfully demonstrated the world’s first fully automatic throat swab and delivered a “Proof of concept” of the processes in a robotized throat swab,” said Savarimuthu. “There are prospects in developing a throat swab robot so that robots can take over the throat swabbing work both in relation to Covid-19, but also in all future viruses.”

Esben Østergaard (co-founder of Lifeline Robotics and Universal Robots) takes a swab in the World’s First Automatic Swab Robot, developed with Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu (professor at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at The University of Southern Denmark)

Medical Director Kim Brixen from OUH (Odense University Hospital) agrees. He has been following the development of the robot and sees a great advantage in the fact that the robot doesn’t get tired and bored of monotonous work. “Currently, healthcare professionals are carrying out throat swabs for Covid-19; but working conditions can be a challenge. The task entails long working days of monotonous work. At the same time, the employees are in great demand in other functions,” Brixen commented, pointing out that the robot can also play a leading role in a new strategy against more common types of flu.

Large-scale testing should be part of any community’s reopening strategy. 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. 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 the strategy against the common flu as well.

3D printed robot swabs
Esben Østergaard, co-founder of Lifeline Robotics and Universal Robots, takes a swab in the World’s First Automatic Swab Robot, developed with Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu, professor at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute, The University of Southern Denmark

Swedish venture fund Norrsken Foundation joined the investors consortium supporting the project with 50%, while REInvest Robotics and SDU hold the other 50%. Vækstfonden supports with DKK 2 million as a convertible loan. “We have created the company Lifeline Robotics A/S, where our vision is to get the robot out to do good on the global market as quickly as possible: in airports, in refugee camps or where else it might be needed,” said Søren Stig from Lifeline Robotics.

While researchers have been struggling with robotics, power management and vision technology, Søren Stig has been struggling to get investment in place and bring together a strong team aiming at turning the throat swab robot into a commercial success internationally, in line with other proud robotic bigwigs. Heavyweights like co-founder of Denmark’s Robot Valley-based Universal Robots and investment company REInvest Robotics, Esben Østergaard, and Vækstfonden support the project, and if everything goes according to the ambitious plan, the robot will be swabbing the first patient’s throat in a month.

3D printed robot swabs
The world’s first automatic swab robot was developed in collaboration between (from the left) Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu (professor at SDU), Esben Østergaard (co-founder of Lifeline Robotics and Universal Robots), Henrik Gordon (professor at SDU), Søren Stig (co-founder of Lifeline Robotics) and Richa Hallundbæk Misri (co-founder of Lifeline Robotics)

“The Covid-19 pandemic abounds. The ambition is, therefore, that we must get on the market as soon as possible. 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, director of Lifeline robotics. “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. It is amazing to see how quickly this idea has jumped from idea to action in an area where new inventions are needed here and now. I am impressed that the researchers have already finished their prototype on a swabbing robot. This is a good example of how Danish research manages to move quickly and create concrete and workable solutions amid the global corona crisis. It shows once again that we have world-class researchers.”

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