If put into practice, the innovative system could reduce the risk of infection at test stations and free up urgently needed medical personnel for work in hospitals, nursing homes and public health agencies.
The fully automated test works either as a "drive-in" or “walk by” procedure. Those suspected of having contracted coronavirus approach the test station by car or on foot. Video instructions guide them step by step through the process.
At the beginning, each person disinfects their hands and scans their identity card. It is also possible to pre-register and receive a code for registration in advance. The personal data is then assigned to a test tube with a barcode. A FANUC robot scans the barcode and hands over the test stick to the technician, who performs the test independently with the help of video instructions. Finally, the robot takes over the used test tube - and stores it until it is transported to the laboratory.
"To ensure that each test is useable, the swab collection can be monitored via camera transmission by a medically-trained person," explains Severin Bobon, co-owner of BoKa Automatisierung.
As the video system and robots perform a number of the important steps, a doctor can control several test stations simultaneously. This reduces the workload on other physicians and facilities that are mass testing. The automated system could also be used to perform quick tests.
"Depending on the length of the explanatory video, a test takes between four and six minutes," says Bobon.
As the test system is designed for two people at the same time, around 500 samples could be collected contact-free per day and per system in 24-hour continuous operation.
"FANUC robots are used with great success in many areas that are dangerous for human workers or where processes are constantly repeated, especially in industry and its surroundings," says Ralf Winkelmann, Managing Director of FANUC Deutschland GmbH.
"We would be delighted if our robots could help to make coronavirus testing safer and more efficient in the future, thereby making an additional positive contribution to many people in the current difficult everyday life."
The cell uses a six-axis FANUC LR Mate 200iD/7L long-arm robot with 911 mm reach. To save space, the control system is located under the worktable. To keep the work surface in the cell free for trays of test tubes, the robot is suspended. This allows the LR Mate to work to both sides of the worktable.
In order to not deprive the German healthcare system of unnecessary test equipment for the construction of the cell, the simulation was undertaken with comparable tubes. The trays for holding the test tubes can be easily adapted to the requirements of individual laboratories.
If the prototype designed by BoKa Automatisierung is well received in the healthcare sector, the contact-free coronavirus test could soon be ready for use.