China develops intelligent robots for throat swab sampling of coronavirus tests

By Wang Qi Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/10 19:33:40

Sina Photo

A Chinese research team led by one of the country's top respiratory specialists Zhong Nanshan developed a new intelligent throat swab sampling robot system that has proved effective in clinical trials, following 80 samples with a success rate over 95 percent. 

Analysts say the robot will keep medical staff from infection and improve the quality of samples.

Co-developed by the research team led by Zhong and another team from the Shenyang Institute of Automation under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the sampling robot system, according to, consists of a snaking-shape robot arm, a binocular endoscope, a wireless transmission device and a human-computer interaction terminal.

According to reports, the system was used to collect samples on a COVID-19 patient on Sunday. 

The snake-like arm is dexterous and accurate through operating in the pharyngeal area. The binocular endoscope provides high-definition 3D anatomical views to doctors. By means of remote man-machine collaboration, the robot can finish sampling quickly and gently, according to the report.

The robot system was put into clinical trials on February 28 on 20 subjects at the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Health under The First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University, about one month after the project started on January 24.

No pharyngeal inflammation, hemorrhage or other adverse reactions were found on the 20 subjects, according to media reports. 

Compared with nasal swabs or oral swabs, throat swabs are the most accurate means to test coronavirus pneumonia as the throat is closer to the respiratory system, a medical professor from Peking University who requested anonymity, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, some analysts noted that during the traditional throat swab sampling, medical staff are in close contact with the patient, which poses a high risk of cross-infection. Besides, medical workers' operating skills and psychological states will affect the accuracy and quality of throat swab results.

The expert said the robot, which contacts patients directly, is beneficial to reduce the possibility of medical staff infection. Besides, the use of the robot could also ease the burden of medical staff in a busy period, and it is more hygienic and thoroughly disinfected than direct contact with a doctor.

But some issues remain unknown and deserve more observation, such as the system's practical effect because people's throats have different shapes and sizes. It is also unknown whether the robot can be put into mass use or what its adjustability and intelligence levels are. 

According to China's latest treatment guideline of COVID-19, the diagnosis of coronavirus requires two nucleic acid positive test results, while the recovery and discharge of patients requires two nucleic acid negative test results, during which routine biological sample testing is also required.

Posted in: SOCIETY

blog comments powered by Disqus