Dezeen Magazine

InstaSwab by OPT Industries

Intricate InstaSwab by OPT Industries was designed to enable better medical testing

Advanced manufacturing company OPT Industries has used computational design techniques to create a medical swab that aims to improve clinical testing during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

The InstaSwab is made of precisely engineered polymer fibres, each thinner than a human hair.

InstaSwab by OPT Industries
The InstaSwab is made of precisely engineered polymer that enables efficient absorption of fluids

These fibres are arranged into patterns that allow the swab to morph, twist and expand more than a traditional cotton or nylon swab.

This means that the swab can absorb more fluid than regular swabs and expel it quickly when squeezed into a vial, which provides a higher sample concentration for better diagnostics, OPT Industries said.

Gloved hand holding a swab for medical testing
The pattern of fibres in each bulb allows the swab to morph, twist and expand

After developing the innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, designer and researcher Jifei Ou founded OPT Industries to mass-produce the InstaSwab.

Ou was able to manufacture throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, when traditional swabs were in short supply. The company believes its product is ideal for rapid diagnostic kits requiring high sample sensitivity, such as those used during the pandemic.

Five different varieties of InstaSwab by OPT Industries
For Covid-19 testing, there are nasopharyngeal, mid-turbinate, anterior and saliva-based sampling swabs

"As an advanced manufacturing company, we see the value in building micro-scale technologies that solve macro-scale challenges," said OPT Industries.

"Taking inspiration from systems built by nature, these fibres can morph, twist, and transform into any pattern, capturing fluids more accurately than before and releasing samples effortlessly for testing."

Brochure for OPT Industries' InstaSwab
OPT Industries says its product is ideal for rapid diagnostic kits

The InstaSwab comes in a range of shapes and sizes for various different kinds of testing and can be also be customised.

The Covid-19 collection, for instance, includes nasopharyngeal, mid-turbinate, anterior and saliva-based sampling swabs.

In addition to its diagnostic benefits, the company claims the Instaswab is more comfortable to use for the patient, as it has a flexible shaft and soft compressive tip that are more gentle on the nasal cavity.

To make it easy to use, the swab also has a textured handle to prevent slipping and a customisable depth indicator.

Pile of OPT Industries' swabs in their sterile packaging
OPT Industries manufactured its swabs during the coronavirus pandemic

The handle is notched at the midpoint to allow it to be easily broken off and deposited into test vials.

OPT Industries makes the swabs using its own proprietary design software and an advanced digital manufacturing process.

Bulb of InstaSwab holding blue fluid
The swabs can absorb and expel fluid more efficiently than traditional cotton or nylon products

The process includes optical lithography, which involves creating patterns in material using light, as well as computational optimisation and functional polymer processing.

OPT Industries is now building off InstaSwab to develop sampling solutions for environmental testing, including testing for water pollution and agricultural infestations.

Head of the InstaSwab under a microscope showing the dense pattern of fibres
The fibres of the InstaSwab are finer than a human hair

Ou's previous work at MIT has included making inflatables that fold themselves from flat sheets into complex origami and 3D-printing hair-like structures.

InstaSwab is shortlisted in the product design category of the Dezeen Awards 2021. Other designs in contention include a build-your-own football for impoverished children by Nendo and the Japanese wood-coloured Forest Crayons by Playfool.