Sanitation workers in Kumbakonam taluk, Thanjavur district can hope to heave a sigh of relief as it is all set to implement ‘Bandicoot’, a robot that would replace manual scavengers, from the last week of June.
Bandicoot, built by a Kerala-based startup GenRobotics, is an exoskeleton robot which cleans manholes without the need for humans to enter the pit.
When GenRobotics invented ‘Bandicoot’ two years ago, they hoped to send a powerful message against manual scavenging. Manual scavenging is illegal in India and has been banned for last two decades.
"We wanted to solve the problem of manual scavenging across the country. Kerala first implemented our robots and it was successful. Now the sub-collector of Thanjavur has asked us to help them implement Bandicoot in the area from June-end,” said Vimal Govind, the co-founder of GenRobotics.
Speaking to TNM, Pradeep Kumar, the sub-Collector of Thanjavur said, “There are about 5000 Manholes in Kumbakonam Municipality which have to be regularly cleaned. Approximately, the municipality cleans 400-500 manholes a month using a mechanical arm which, at present, is not efficient in terms of cleaning output and the labour involved. Considering the facts, we are proposing to implement the Project Bandicoot from June end.”
The municipality also plans to rehabilitate the workers who will be losing their jobs as a part of this implementation.
“Though we stopped involving the manual scavengers long back, we still find it difficult to rehabilitate them. Now, we will train them to operate and maintain these robots that generate income for them to bring the changes in the lives of the community,” he added.
The robots are being sponsored by the Indian Oil Corporation Limited as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.
The team behind GenRobotics shot to fame when they created an Iron Man suit in college, which became a huge hit. However, after graduating from college, the founders went their own separate ways with jobs in different places. “But, none of us was very happy about it,” Nikhil NP, another co-founder earlier remarked.
Things changed when the team received a phone call from M Sivasankaran, the Information Technology (IT) Secretary of Kerala, who asked them to develop a robot that could clean manholes.
The Kerala government then provided them with the resources and an office space at Techno Park in Thiruvananthapuram, thus helping them focus on building the robot. The team quit the jobs they had and began working on the task at hand.
Owing to their hard work and innovation, the team also was honoured as the first start-up innovator by the Kerala Water Authority.