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COVID-19 test robot as a tireless colleague in the fight against the virus

Pipetting throat swabs from potential coronavirus patients – that is a job for robots. More precisely, for an LBR iiwa from KUKA, which supports the laboratory staff at Bulovka Hospital in Prague. Without a face mask, but tirelessly.

24 June 2020

COVID-19 test robot in continuous action combating the virus

The staff jokingly call the robot “Pipeťák”, meaning pipette in English. The nickname of the LBR iiwa lightweight robot at Bulovka Hospital in Prague vividly describes the task of the test robot in the clinic’s laboratory, where it has been in operation since mid-March: Using a pipette and an industrial balance, the robot adds a solution to nasopharyngeal swabs from patients in order to detect the genetic material of the coronavirus. A positive test result indicates that the patient is infected with coronavirus. The laboratory handles some 300 to 400 samples per day, with the laboratory staff examining up to 670 samples a day at peak times when the pandemic broke out.
The samples taken from the patients’ mouth, nose and throat are tested for coronavirus genetic material in the laboratory of Bulovka Hospital.
The laboratory staff only have to load the samples into the tray; the COVID-19 test robot LBR iiwa from KUKA takes care of the pipetting

In the coronavirus application, the KUKA robot works more meticulously than humans ever could

Use of the test robot has greatly simplified the test procedure. Using a pipette, the KUKA laboratory robot “Pipeťák” adds a chemical to the samples one after the other, in each case checking directly afterwards by means of its integrated industrial balance whether the correct amount of liquid has been added. “Pipetting has to be done very carefully,” says Lenka Richterová from the hospital’s Department of Clinical Microbiology. “If the robot is used for pipetting, it reduces the risk of errors considerably. The test robot carries out the procedure faultlessly and facilitates the work of the laboratory technician, who can concentrate on other steps of the process.”

Robot arm in non-stop action for coronavirus tests

The KUKA robot can pipette up to 700 samples per day in the coronavirus application – tirelessly and without requiring any face mask. For the hospital, Pipeťák brings relief in two respects: the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics (CIIRC) at the Czech Technical University in Prague (CTU) is providing the robot free of charge. In just 14 days, from the initial planning meeting to the first use in the laboratory, researchers and students at the university, under the leadership of Professor Václav Hlaváč, had designed the mechanical assistant, configured it with a pipette and computer-controlled balance, and programmed it to pipette the samples. The KUKA laboratory robot has now been working untiringly in the coronavirus application since the beginning of April.
The COVID-19 test robot pipettes a chemical into sample after sample in order to detect the coronavirus.

The test robot has considerably reduced the risk of errors in manual pipetting of the samples.

Lenka Richterová, Department of Clinical Microbiology at Bulovka Hospital in Prague