Page 50 - April 2021
P. 50

Adding Dignity to the Life
of Sanitation Workers
A group of spirited engineers from Kerala finds a smart solution to end manual scavenging
n Science India Bureau
Sanitation workers across the na- tion are working on the frontlines during the pandemic. These work- ers, mainly the manual scavengers, are highly exposed to all kinds of domestic and hazardous waste. Manual scaveng- ing, also called manhole cleaning, is one of the biggest problems in India and one of the worst professions in the world. The working and living conditions of these scavengers are horrific, with dire consequences on their health.
There are about 1.8 lakh people in the country working as manual scav- engers. Most of them die from inhal- ing poisonous gases accumulated inside manholes, oxygen depletion, heat stress or from falling down the pit. About four or five people die on the job every month, shockingly most of the manual scavengers don’t live beyond the age of 30 — a major reason being a lack of proper technological solutions to take their place. They are not provided the mandatory safety gear by their employ- ers, which often results in fatal acci- dents. Even a protective cap is a luxury for a manual scavenger.
Manual scavenging is outlawed in India and two laws have been enacted. The Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines Prohi- bition Act, 1993 and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 eradicate the practice of manually cleaning, car- rying and disposing human excreta and garbage from sewers. Yet, thousands of people are still engaged in the work facing social oppression and extreme exclusion from the society.
Bandicoot, the robot designed to end the dehumanising practice of manual cleaning of manholes
A group of engineers from Kerala has found a solution to end this ‘dehu- manising practice’. They have designed a spider-shaped robot called Bandicoot to clean manholes and sewers with preci- sion. Bandicoot has been developed by Genrobotics, a Thiruvananthapuram- based startup.
Genrobotics’ founders Vimal Gov- ind MK, Arun George, Nikhil NP, and Rashid Bin Abdulla Khan graduated from MES College of Engineering in Kuttipuram, Kerala, and started work- ing in different corporate jobs. However, the jobs did not satisfy their internal urge to bring about real change through innovation. Eventually, they quit their jobs and dusted out Genrobotics, which they had started as a student startup
in 2015 while in college but had been pushed to the back burner once they had all begun working.
The idea of Bandicoot came to their minds due to a manhole accident that took place in Kerala. Three people lost their lives, including the person who tried to help the two sanitation work- ers. The Genrobotics team realised that there was no technological solution to mitigate manual scavenging. That’s when they took up the mission to de- velop a robotic technology to eliminate human intervention for manhole clean- ing with human level flexibility.
The idea was to build on a powered exoskeleton they had developed in the final year of college and which had won them many accolades. A powered
            All images courtesy: Genrobotics

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