In this study, a robotic system is proposed for nasopharyngeal (NP) swab sampling with high safety and efficiency. Most existing swab-sampling robots have more than six degrees of freedom (DOFs). However, not all six DOFs are necessarily required for NP swab sampling. A high number of DOFs can cause safety problems, such as collisions between the robot and patient.
We developed a new type of robot with four DOFs for NP swab sampling that consists of a two DOFs remote center of motion (RCM) mechanism, a two DOFs insertion mechanism, and a nostril support unit. With the nostril support unit, the robot no longer needs to adjust the insertion position of the swab. The proposed robot enables the insertion orientation and depth to be adjusted according to different postures or facial shapes of the subject. For intuitive and precise remote control of the robot, a dedicated master device for the RCM and a visual feedback system were developed.
The effectiveness of the robotic system was demonstrated by repeatability, RCM accuracy, tracking accuracy, and in vitro phantom experiments. The average tracking error between the master device and the robot was less than 2 mm. The contact force exerted on the swab prior to reaching the nasopharynx was less than 0.04 N, irrespective of the phantom's pose.
This study confirmed that the RCM-based robotic system is effective and safe for NP swab sampling while using minimal DOFs.