Close on the heels of the national capital showing keen interest in high-tech robotic sanitation, municipal authorities in Maharashtra and Karnataka are deliberating on the need to induct Bandicoot, the world’s first robotic scavenger, to clean the manholes in their states and stamp out the obnoxious practice of manual scavenging.
Developed by Genrobotic Innovations, a Kerala-based startup that specializes in advanced robotics, AI and machine learning, Bandicoot is currently being implemented in five states — Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat. This startup is supported by Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), the nodal agency of the Kerala government for entrepreneurship development and incubation activities in the state.
The visits by officials of Delhi, Karnataka and Maharashtra to the company’s premises in Thiruvananthauram was prompted by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman making a reference in her budget speech to the innovative robotic sanitation technology developed by the Kerala startup that can eliminate manual scavenging from across the country.
A team of officials from Nagpur Municipal Corporation, comprising its Deputy Mayor and chairmen of the Standing Committee, Health Committee and Water Works, visited the company late last month to get a first hand information of Bandicoot, a spider-shaped robot that can replace manual cleaning of manholes through robotic technology.
Earlier this month, officials from the Karnataka State Commission of Safai Karamcharis, including J.K. Manjunath, Deputy Director, and Roshan Kumar, Assistant Director, visited the company’s headquarters to apprise themselves of the technology. In the last week of July, Delhi Minister for Social Welfare Rajendra Pal Gautam had visited Genrobotics at its Thiruvananthapuram premises, taking forward the administration’s move to deploy the semi-automatic Bandicoot.
The pneumatic-powered, remote-controlled robot was developed in early 2018 by four young engineering graduates. The 50-kg machine, on being sent down a manhole, would remove sewage by spreading its robotic arm capable of 360-degree motion. Designed with the help of Google launch pad, Bandicoot is easy to operate, equipped as it is with a user-friendly interface.
The device has made “a really significant impact” in the elimination of manual scavenging, according to a study, saying the robot has succeeded in drastic reduction of the social menace in places it has been implemented. Currently, a team of the 2015-founded Genrobotics is working with several states of India and also with some administrations abroad to make sanitation a robotic activity that is safe, easy and dignifying for those cleaning underground conduits carrying drainage water and waste matter.
India has around 4.5 million manual scavengers. In every five days, a manual scavenger is losing his life due to the practice of cleaning the manholes and septic tanks manually in the country alone.
Despite a stringent 2013 law (The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act) that prohibits deploying people to clean sewers, India continues to grapple with the problem. A Central government taskforce count in 2017 put the number of manual scavengers in 121 of the 600-odd districts of the country at 53,236. Last decade alone saw 1,850 people dying while cleaning sewers in Delhi, according to Safai Karamchari Andolan which campaigns for eradicating manual scavenging and has 6,350 volunteers working country-wide in 439 districts.
Manual scavenging is not only a matter of concern for India but even in a developed country like USA, two workers lost their lives in Pennsylvania recently while cleaning manholes. Bandicoot provides a “complete solution” to end the practice of manual scavenging, which is lethal, illegal and inhumane.
Showering praise on Bandicoot innovators, MIT professor Sherry Lassiter, a top innovator from USA, says it can prove to be of use not only in India but also globally for cleaning manholes and sewers with precision.