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.