When the story of Thailand’s battle to combat COVID19 is written, robotics and a strip test developed at Chulalongkorn University are certain to find a mention.
Chulalongkorn University, Thailand’s premier institution of higher learning, has assumed a lead role in promoting knowledge, research, and innovation in combating COVID19. Beginning in April, when Chula University President Prof. Bundhit Eua-arporn announced a slew of measures affecting both the university community and society at large, various university-wide units have been working relentlessly to help combat the COVID pandemic. Chula startups combat the COVID pandemic ranging from preventive, screening, and treatment.
A crucial innovation has been the introduction of the COVID-19 Strip Test for quick and easy COVID-19 screening. The test is based on a serology designed to detect antibodies (IgG & IgM) in blood serum or plasma, and the diagnosis on the initial screening takes 10 to 15 minutes. Being a finger-prick blood test, it is quick and, crucially, safe as it minimizes physical contact. Though it does not replace the detailed COVID19 laboratory test, the test kit vastly reduces the number of patients thronging emergency services.
Created by Dr. Waranyoo Phoolcharoen and Dr. Suthira Taychakhoonavudh of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chulalongkorn University, it was developed by Baiya Phytopharm Co., Ltd., a firm set up by the Startup team from the University’s Innovation Hub (CU Innovation Hub). A presentation of 100,000 sets of this innovation was made to H.E. General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand, by a team led by Chula President Bundhit Eua-arporn and including Dr. Narin Hiransuthikul, Vice President for Strategy, Planning, and Budgeting, Assoc. Prof. Natcha Thawesaengskulthai, Vice President for Innovation & New Development, and Dr. Panachit Kittipanyangam, President of the Thailand Tech Startup Association, along with other university executives.
Another critical innovation was the launch of Ninja Robots to assist health personnel in providing healthcare to Covid-19 patients. These robots developed by by Professor Viboon Sangveraphunsiri, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Head of the Regional Centre for Robotic Technology together with the Softsquare Group and CU incubated startup named Haxter Robotics Co., the aim being to lessen physical contact between patients and health staff so as to avoid infection. Prof. Supot Teachavorasinskun, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, revealed that these robots, named Ninja due to their black colour, provide sophisticated telemedicine services and measure vital signs. Normally used for stroke patients, these robots have been adapted for use with COVID patients.
In addition, over 100 Pinto (small-sized) robots and 504 Mirror (telepresence) robots are also being delivered to 123 hospitals all across Thailand, reveals Asst. Prof. Witaya Wannasuphoprasit, Director of the International School of Engineering and Startups HG Robotics and Obodroid. In addition to robots and testing, researchers at CU-Robo-COVID led by Dr. Surat Khwanmuang are working relentlessly on creating an Open Source respirator called “Pran” (which means “breath” or “life-force” in Sanskrit).
Besides, the impact of COVID was not restricted to robotics and testing alone. An innovation from the Chulalongkorn School of Integrated Innovation (ScII) focussed on something that all of us like — taking care of our pets. S.O. Pet is the Thailand’s first and only online veterinary consultation helping pet owners who do not wish to risk travelling to a veterinarian during COVID. “It is not only time consuming and expensive, but also increases the risk of infection for both humans and owners,” reasons Dr. Ronnakorn Vaiyavuth, who has mentored six young students for this innovation at ScII. The range of services including a panel of 20 veterinarians who respond to questions, be it via text, voice, or video, and it catered to over 400 customers within a month. While the chat mode has a response time of less than two hours, voice calling allows pet-owners to send photos and videos, while video calling allows for real-time examination of the pet via a video call.
More details of COVID-related initiatives are available at the Chulalongkorn University COVID website: