Universal Robots Cobots Swab Test Healthcare

Firm says pandemic fuels global demand for ‘cobots’ in healthcare sector

Universal Robots (UR), Denmark-based collaborative robots (cobots) technology market company, has advised business leaders in the Philippines, across health and related key industries, to leverage robotic automation in response to COVID-19 pandemic challenges.

According to UR, cobots have emerged as a “strong force” for good in the global battle against COVID-19. Contributing to the global response to the pandemic, Universal Robots’ cobot deployments include applications in critical front-line industries such as healthcare, medical testing, sanitization, disinfection, medical equipment, as well as tools to re-shore production and enable operations to be more flexible.

Universal Robots (UR) was founded in 2005 to make robot technology accessible to all by developing small, user-friendly, reasonably priced, flexible collaborative robots (cobots) that are safe to work with.

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“The COVID-19 outbreak has caused a major shake-up across the global economy,” said Darrell Adams, head of Southeast Asia and Oceania for Universal Robots. “Companies around the world and in the Philippines need to pivot and adapt to this new reality fast. The use of robots is highly encouraged in light of new standard operating procedures, including physical-distancing and minimal human contact. Healthcare is one of the top priorities in the Philippines to battle COVID-19, it is pivotal to look for solutions that can respond to new demands rapidly. As such, collaborative robots or cobots are well placed to cope with these challenges.”

Minimizing human contact and protecting workers’ healthcare staff and patients from cross infections, cobot applications in the health and related industry have been rapidly developed and rolled out globally this year.

Sanitisation and disinfection

There has been a massive demand for effective deep cleaning and disinfection technologies without involving direct human contact on potentially infected areas. In April 2020, researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore unveiled eXtremeDisinfection roBOT (XDBOT), which comprises of a UR5 cobot fitted with an electrostatic spray nozzle, and mounted on a mobile platform. The cobot was programmed to mimic human hand movements to get into hard-to-reach areas such as under the beds and tables.

Automated swab test

Universal Robots’ co-founder Esben Østergaard developed one of the world’s first autonomous throat swabbing robot in collaboration with the University of Southern Denmark (SDU). The robot uses UR3 cobot arms fitted with a custom 3D-printed end-effector. Cobots enable the throat swabbing process to be completed within seven minutes, with the swab itself taking just 25 seconds.

Taiwan-based Brain Navi Biotechnology, developed the world’s first autonomous nasal swab test robot using a UR cobot. The cobot can automatically recognize the patient’s facial structure, identify the position of the nostrils, hold a nasopharyngeal swab (like a long cotton swab) with a gripper, and then automatically extend it into the patient’s nasopharynx and stay for about 10 to 25 seconds to collect the secretion specimen. The inspection time only takes two to five minutes, and nearly 100 people can be inspected in eight hours. Except for the initial facial positioning scan settings performed by medical staff behind a transparent protective panel, the entire process does not require human intervention.

The throat and nasal swab robots protect healthcare workers by reducing staff-patient contact with highly infectious diseases at the point of testing.

“Collaborative robots have been used in a number of ways to help companies respond to the global pandemic. Because of its key features such as safety, speed, flexibility and ease-of-use, strong demand for cobots is seen across various sectors looking to resume businesses and function at maximum productivity levels,” Adams said.

Despite being a niche product that accounted for just 3% of global robot spending in 2018, cobots are now the fastest-growing segment of the industrial robot sector. By 2025, cobots are expected to jump from the niche status to thoroughly mainstream, accounting for 34% of global robot spend.