TOKYO -- Robotic systems that can conduct up to 2,500 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests per day have been operating at four locations in Japan, and the developers aim to have 50 of them installed by the end of March 2022.
A robot arm gently lifts a tiny sample container, rotates it, opens the lid, moves part of the sample to another container, puts reagent into it, and repeatedly conducts such delicate movements. This is the Automated PCR Viral Testing Robot System, developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., major Kobe-based medical equipment and reagent manufacturer Sysmex Corp., and their joint venture company Medicaroid Corp., also in Kobe.
They started developing the system utilizing industrial robots in April last year as the coronavirus pandemic picked up steam in Japan. First introduced by Fujita Health University in Aichi Prefecture in January 2021, the systems have now been delivered to four locations in the country including Kansai International Airport.
Doing PCR tests, from taking the samples to delivering the results, usually takes four to five hours if done by hand. The system shortens the process to 80 minutes. As it can work unattended, it also reduces infection risks for health care workers. And as the whole system including testing equipment and the robotic arms can be put into a 12.2-meter-long, 2.5-meter-wide container for easy transport, it is expected to see use at a variety of venues including at sporting events.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, domestic PCR testing capacity increased from some 2,000 per day in early February last year to about 200,000 as of May 26 this year.
"In addition to vaccinations, large-scale testing can also lead to infection countermeasures," said Shigeki Aratama, 54, at Kawasaki Heavy Industries' general PCR business department. "We hope this can create a way for economic activities to resume or continue."
(Japanese original by Kimi Takeuchi, Photo Group)