Skip to main content

Coronavirus-hunting robot will stick a horrifyingly long swab up your nose

Remember that scene in Total Recall where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character, Douglas Quaid, has to stick a gadget up his nose to remove a tracking bug that’s located in his skull? That’s one of many slightly squeam-inducing references that springs to mind when viewing footage of a new swabbing machine created by scientists at the South Korean Institute of Machinery and Materials.

Designed to help test patients for coronavirus without medical professionals having to get too close, the new invention consists of a head stabilizer support along with an absorbent probe that’s remote-controlled by the doctor or nurse carrying out the test. It also boasts a voice and video comms link between the patient and the people operating the machine, as well as force feedback so that the person carrying out the procedure can “feel” what they are doing.

The reason for the invasiveness of the probe is because the deeper into the nasopharynx the swab goes, the greater the chances that it can pick up the presence of coronavirus in patients. This airway cavity, which is made up of muscle and connective tissue, is far back in the nostril, approximately the depth of an index finger. Needless to say, receiving the swab is not the world’s most pleasant experience, but it’s also one of the best ways we have of testing for COVID-19.

robot nose swab 1
South Korean Institute of Machinery and Materials

The Korean robot probe machine is just the latest example of telemedicine, in which healthcare workers can carry out procedures from a distance using robots. Last year, a robot was used to help carry out the world’s first long-distance heart operation. Like this latest coronavirus swabbing bot, that robot was controlled using a workstation with multiple joysticks, which allowed the surgeon to control the robot in real time while getting visual feedback about what they were doing.

This distance technology could prove revolutionary for medicine for all sorts of reasons. It might be that the expert needed for a procedure is not in the same physical geographic location as the patient, but their expertise is required urgently. Similarly, it may simply be that the patient may be highly contagious, and this means that the healthcare worker does not physically have to come into contact with them.

Either way, we’re glad this technology exists. Even if we wouldn’t necessarily undergo it for fun.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
This tiny robot tank could one day help doctors explore your intestine

With a bulky, armored appearance, heavy duty treads for gripping, and a claw arm on the front, the Endoculus robot vehicle looks like it belongs on the battlefield. In fact, it’s just 3 cm wide, 2.3 cm tall, and designed for an entirely different kind of inhospitable environment: Your intestine.

“[This] robotic capsule endoscope, Endoculus, is a tethered robot designed for colonoscopy applications,” Mark Rentschler, a mechanical engineering professor in the Advanced Medical Technologies Laboratory at the University of Colorado, told Digital Trends. “The goals are twofold: design a platform for a robot endoscope in the gastrointestinal tract, and enable autonomous capabilities to assist physicians with disease diagnosis and treatment during these procedures.”

Read more
Your wearables can soon help contact trace coronavirus outbreaks
coronavirus render stylized image

Wearable devices connected to Bluetooth will soon be apart of an exposure notification system (ENS) and notify users if they have been exposed to someone who later tests positive for the coronavirus, according to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG).

All public systems to date use Bluetooth technology already included in smartphones to accomplish contact tracing, the public health method of tracking who has been in contact with someone who tests positive for an infectious disease.

Read more
How to sign up for a coronavirus vaccine trial
Cambridge Biotech Moderna Leads in Race For Coronavirus Vaccine

With the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine heating up, clinical studies around the U.S are looking for willing participants to help them complete various stages of their research. Tech conglomerates Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax are all in various stages of human trials, each of which requires hundreds of volunteers. So how does one sign up for a vaccine trial?
How to sign up for a coronavirus trial
While the words "scientific trial" may bring up images of mad scientists, the average clinical study is an important part of the vaccine development process. After methods prove hopeful in laboratories, researchers then perform several detailed studies with humans, to perfect the product. To speed up trial involvement for a coronavirus vaccine, the U.S. National Institute of Health has launched an online public network that connects possible volunteers with hundreds of research facilities across the U.S.

But a lot still has to happen before scientists can stick you with a needle. Possible volunteers must be 18 years or older, and must fill out a volunteer screening history. Signing up for the database takes less than 10 minutes, and will automatically connect users with the trial closest to them.

Read more