Manual scavenging—a dehumanising, archaic, caste-based practice—continues to prevail in the country and claims thousands of lives on a yearly basis.
Thankfully, a group of engineers in Kerala have created a robot that could finally be the solution which puts an end to this abominable practice in India.
Bandicoot is the brainchild of Thiruvananthapuram-based startup, Genrobotics.
Vimal Govind, the founder and CEO, spoke to the Hindustan Times and said that the idea of creating Bandicoot came about two years ago when he and his friends came across the news that three sewage cleaners in Bengaluru had died due to asphyxiation.
“I worked for more than a year in TCS to earn some money to fund stage one of the project. The nine of us are classmates from MES Engineering College in Kuttipuram, and developed the first prototype in six months,” added Rashid K, a software engineer.
The machine comprises of a robot which can be dismantled, a screen, and a camera attached wire that together perform the entire cleaning operation. Once installed over the intended sewage drain, the wire goes inside the manhole and displays the situation on the screen. Here is where the robot’s action comes into play.
After analysing the condition, it separates from the central apparatus and heads into the manhole with essential tools like a shovel or a jet pipe, based on the scale of the block and cleans it.
For heavy-duty cleaning, the robot is equipped with a bucket that can quickly scoop out the waste.
While the entire machine weighs about 80 kg, the operating segment that goes into the hole weighs only 30 kg. The entire cost of manufacturing it ranges from ₹3 lakh–₹5 lakh.
A unique aspect about the robot is that it completes the work of three people, in 30 minutes. Besides cleaning sewages, the machine can also be put to use for other underwater activities.
Genrobotics has already received the patent in India and is currently waiting to acquire the world patent that is applicable in over 150 countries.
Instead of stripping the workers of their livelihood, the young techies intend to engage them as the machine operators. “Even a small boy can operate our system. We will train these workers because it is their product. We are planning to move a proposal under the Prime Minister’s flagship Swachh Bharat scheme to train them,” said Vimal.
The team considers the late APJ Abdul Kalam, the former President of India, as their guiding spirit, and has partnered with the Kerala Water Authority, which manages the sewage department in the state. KWA had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Kerala Start-Up Mission, to put an end to manual scavenging and had placed orders for 50 Bandicoot robots earlier.
Bandicoot was officially inaugurated by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday.
From now on, robots will clean manholes. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan launched the initiative in Thiruvananthapuram. It is hoped that this technology will bring an end to the dangerous practice of cleaning sewers manually. pic.twitter.com/wSZlj2YV4a
— CMO Kerala (@CMOKerala) February 26, 2018
“The technology will help in stopping people from entering the manholes to clean them up. Asserting that forcing humans to clean manholes is an inhuman activity. This is the beginning of something entirely new. As far as Kerala Water Authority is concerned, this is a proud moment. With this, KWA is also entering a new territory, with the use of technology,” Vijayan said at the gathering.
In an international conference conducted recently by the American Society of Research, out of 13 papers submitted, the paper on Bandicoot was adjudged as the best. It was also published in the International Journal of Mechanical Engineering and Robotics Research.
As for future plans, the Genrobotics team intend to make Bandicoot available commercially.
To know more, you can take a look at the Genrobotics website or write to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.