Dutch test robot analysing 20,000 coronavirus tests per day

On Wednesday 27 January, Hugo de Jonge, Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, visited the PAMM medical microbiology laboratory in Veldhoven to see the newly acquired STRIP-1 robot in operation. The robot – nicknamed The Beast – is capable of processing around 20,000 PCR tests a day and delivering the results online. This is considerably more than any other device in the world.

New robot is a Dutch invention funded by the Dutch government

The robot is a Dutch invention, developed by the Hubrecht Institute (part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, KNAW) and the biotechnology firm Genmab. It was built in Switzerland. The robot was funded by the Dutch government and can also be deployed in any future pandemics. As such, it is an important building block for a robust, public testing system in the Netherlands. This is key to effectively tackling the current pandemic.

Test robot is part of strategy to expand testing and analysis capacity in the Netherlands

Although testing and analysis facilities in the Netherlands are of an exceptionally high quality, they tend to be small scale in nature and are aimed primarily at diagnostics. In a pandemic it is also necessary to quickly map the spread of the virus in order to allow for a targeted approach to be taken where outbreaks flare up. During major virus outbreaks is it crucial to be able to analyse large numbers of samples quickly and reliably. This requires much larger scale operations and greater clout. The government has therefore invested heavily in expanding testing and analysis capacity within the Netherlands. The new test robot is part of this strategy.

Not only can the robot process much larger numbers of tests very rapidly, but it can do so at a much lower cost per test – without compromising the quality of the analysis. There is a great deal of foreign interest in the robot.

Robot can be used at full capacity starting mid-February

he STRIP-1 was installed in Veldhoven just before Christmas. Since then, use of the robot to analyse more tests has gradually been stepped up, so as to test its function and prepare for large-scale deployment. The validation period, during which performance is being monitored by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the local municipal health service (GGD Brabant-Zuidoost), will last until mid-February. From then on, the robot can be used at full capacity to help tackle the pandemic.

The government considers to acquire more of these robots if validation produces the expected results. The use of these robots can increase national processing capacity by many tens of thousands analyses per day, when necessary.

'Promising new step in fight against the coronavirus pandemic'

‘This is a promising new step in our fight against the coronavirus pandemic,’ the minister said. ‘It’s great that Dutch businesses and institutions have achieved this, and we as government are delighted to have played a part as well. Everything points to us being able to deploy this robot successfully. The STRIP-1 has the potential to be an important extra link in the large-scale testing that’s needed in a pandemic.’