Eliminating Manual Scavenging with Made in India Bandicoot Robots
Manual scavenging in India is a caste-based occupation involving the removal of untreated human excreta from bucket toilets or pit latrines that has been officially abolished by law in India as a dehumanising practice. Kerela based GenRobotics, a team of four techies, has taken up this noble cause and has developed India’s first technology-backed solution to mitigate manual scavenging practices which are now illegal but still prevalent even in Indian metros. This solution uses a physical robot instead of a manual scavenger transforming the manholes into roboholes.
Genrobotics Innovations Pvt. Ltd, founded in 2017, is a startup based out of India, located at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala that specializes in design and development of socially innovative solutions to address the problems faced by the society. Genrobotics has developed a pneumatic semi-robotic device called “Bandicoot” to clean the filth and other liquid waste clogged in manholes. The solutions developed by a team of young innovators had emerged as a viable option to replace the manual scavenging job done by a socially untouchable section of population in India; the manual scavenging has been going on for many decades without any scant respect for human lives. As per the latest data by India spend, a data journalism initiative, 102 people died in 2017 alone while cleaning sewer lines, that is an average 8 deaths per month. As of now, company in its stable has developed G1 (Generation one ) Powered exoskeleton and G-2 Medical exoskeleton, compact version of G-1, other significant innovation is the Semi- robotic device called “Bandicoot” specially designed for manual scavenging jobs.
GenRobotics was founded by aspiring young innovators Vimal Govind M K, Arun George, Nikhil N P, Rashid K and the company took its first shape during their college days.
In the heart of the financial capital of the world's fastest growing economy, the amount of sewage generated is beyond compare. While the country is making technological advancements and beyond, even today there are people who literally deal with human excreta with their bare hands every day. Despite laws preventing manual scavenging, the tradition of the lower caste people of removing human waste is still alive in India. It is a dangerous practice where thousands die each year due to accidents, exposure to toxic gases or other related diseases.
Over 1 million people in India’s “untouchable” caste are still tasked with cleaning sewers, drains, and latrines — with no protective gear.
This earliest form of sewer cleaning is done by hand excavation whereby labourers load sediment into barrows which are moved down the sewer and then lifted out of the manholes by bucket. This work is dirty, unpleasant and dangerous. In extreme situations, silt and debris may have to be removed by open excavation to the sewer and removal of a section of the pipe or brick to gain access to the interior of the sewer needs to be done manually. Asphyxia may occur due to low oxygen level in the atmosphere or high hazardous gaseous concentration.
Bandicoot is actually aimed at state governmental municipalities whose responsibility it is to undertake cleaning of underground sewers especially during the arrival of monsoon. The robot is capable of working under any extreme conditions to scoop out silt from the pit holes. Mr. Govind states that all of GenRobotics’ clients consist of various government bodies. Hence the impact of such a solution could be massive if it is augmented pan India.
Bandicoot is driven by a simple Technology:
It is a purely an electro mechanical machine assembly that is IP68 water proof. The robotic scavenger also has a 5 D.o.f arm to eliminate the requirement of a human arm for undertaking works inside the manholes, which require flexibility of the body. To enter the manholes, Bandicoot is also designed to adjust its diameter to dynamically adjust to the area within. Here, the robot clears the sewer lines of solid waste which are often the cause for liquid flooding. After clearing solid wastes, the drain is unblocked so that the liquid waste flows through the system as usual; thereby potentially mitigating even the conventional suction system that only sucks away liquid leaving behind solid particles. This would again require humans to enter the manholes. Bandicoot can be operated in two modes viz. semi-automatic as well as fully automated variants. Another potential advantage that Bandicoot offers is its ability to accurately position the pressurized water jet for executing water jet cleaning.
On when asked whether the existing workers might be at a risk of losing their livelihood due to this invention, Mr. Govind is quick to reply, “Bandicoot despite converting a manhole into a robohole is not intended to take away jobs of sanitary workers. It undertakes the entire septic cleaning processes beneath while the workers could operate the robot from above. We are rehabilitating the existing manual scavengers as well.”
“The first version of Bandicoot is fully ready and has been deployed in the Trivandrum area of Kerala.” states the GenRobotics team. Bandicoot has gained prominence within months since its launch and is fast becoming a go-to solution for civic bodies far and wide. Recently, Kumbakonam Municipality has decided to use ‘Bandicoot’ in the temple town of Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. The solution will soon be deployed in the the Anantapur District of Andhra Pradesh also. This made in India solution is all set to make its utility available offshore too as the Municipality of Sharjah is planning to rope in Bandicoot to conduct inspections in the city sewers and conduits. Besides, the team GenRobotics would also engage in R&D for reshaping the Bandicoot as per the requirements of the Sharjah government.
The other products from the house of GenRobotics include:
Generation 1: The miraculous invention that set high bar in humanoid robotic field. It is a 10 ft. high robot that can be operated by an individual by placing himself inside it. This technology can be used for defence purpose, space application, weight lifting and anywhere that requires some extra power and protection.
Generation 2: The prodigy of GenRobotics, which revolutionized their thinking and motivated them to go beyond their limitations. The main difference of G2 from its predecessor is that it uses a pneumatic feedback system. The feedback concept has got a lot of application in machine tool controlling, automobile steering and breaking, medical field etc.
Generation 2.5: The latest version of GenRobotics is introduced in the industrial field with the G2.5. It is a massive weight lifter that can lift weights around 400lbs without any external support. After intense research and development of nearly 2 long years, G2.5 gained the immense power and stability for this Gen Exoskeleton. The G2.5 imparts high flexibility and freedom to the man who drives the system. The usage of the system can be changed by altering the end effectors.
Generation 3: It is set to be a force to reckon with. This ultra-modern version will offer experience beyond normal GenRobotics solution with its use of Artificial intelligence. This will be a wireless machine with an on-board compact power source and inbuilt voice recognition with vision sensors and face recognition. From just an exoskeleton to a near perfect humanoid robot, G3 can proudly boast that it is one step closer to human. It will be capable of performing almost all human activities. The main feature of G3 will be its harmonic drive for better accuracy. It has a pneumatic feedback system for quick response.
“We began as a student start up mainly having dealt with powered exoskeletons since college. We then focused on developing simple and compact exoskeleton for commercial purpose. Now the company has come up with a good research in robotics and powered exoskeleton and different control aspects and is focusing on socially relevant issues. GenRobotics has developed a small but strong version of powered exoskeletons, G2, which is the cheapest and strongest exoskeleton available globally”, explains Mr. Govind.
Powered exoskeletons have been commonly designed for military purposes to help soldiers to carry heavy loads in and out of combat. In civilian areas, similar exoskeletons can be used by industrial workers, fire-fighters and other rescue workers to lift heavy weights and survive dangerous environments. The medical field is another prime area for exoskeleton technology, where it can be used to enhance the precision during surgery, or as an assistant to nurses to provide help for bulky patients. Countries like America, Japan, and China are doing lots of research in this field. Currently available exoskeletons are expensive due to their conventional technology. GenRobotics’ concept of manufacturing the exoskeleton is quite different from existing technologies which makes it economical compared to others in its class.
Now with the invention of Bandicoot, India’s manual scavenging can be brought under check and many lives can be saved. Every human life is important. Don’t sit idle and see it go to waste!