In Trial Run, Manhole-Cleaning Robot Replaces Humans In Kerala

'Bandicoot', a robot made by start-up Genrobotics, is cleaning manholes in Thiruvananthapuram. The makers of the robot say they hope to replace manual cleaners once it's fully operational

The manhole-cleaning robot Bandicoot is on a trial run before it sees full deployment

Thiruvananthapuram: In 2018, while manholes are still being cleaned by people across India despite a Supreme Court ban, a group of young techies from Kerala are striving to make a difference.

As curious onlookers gather around, a group of nine youth in their early 20s are busy testing a one-metre-tall robot near a manhole in Kerala's capital Thiruvananthapuram.

The robot with four limbs and armed with Wi-Fi and other control panels, releases its limbs deep into in the manhole, successfully scooping out waste and dumping it into a bucket, much to the relief of its young designers, all part of a start-up - Genrobotics.

"The Director for Information Technology asked us if we will be willing to work on finding a solution to this problem. As an engineer what more could we offer?" Genrobotics Chief Executive Vimal Govind told NDTV.

"We did not want to restrict ourselves to the comfort of offices and computers. I accepted it and eight of my friends joined in the project, leaving their steady jobs. We worked on this project without sleeping, eating and made the first prototype in three months. This is now beyond prototype. It's a beta model, with focus on operations," he said.

Ahead of Pongal festivities in March, the Kerala Water Authority decided to run trials with the robot called "Bandicoot" toward the end of February to test the pilot project as an alternative to people cleaning up manholes.

"There is no technology to clean manholes now. It's unfortunate that even now human beings have to get in. The chief minister even told me to take action against officials who are allowing this, but I had to explain we have no other option at times," Kerala Water Resources Minister Mathew Thomas told NDTV.

"We are extremely happy that now we are on the verge of advanced technology of using robots to clean manholes," he said.

A Memorandum of Understanding or MoU has been signed between the Kerala Water Innovation Zone under the Kerala Water Authority and the Kerala Start-up Mission, where Genrobotics came initially mentored.

According to Safai Karmachari Andolan, 1,670 people have died in India since 2014 due to hazardous conditions while cleaning sewage and septic tanks.

"We are not doing this as a job, but as a passion. It's a shame that we still have manual scavenging in our country. Even though our parents were not happy with us leaving our well-paid jobs to start working on this project, I think as an Indian, it's the best I can do," Genrobotics Chief Technical Officer Nikhil NP told NDTV.