Humanising the ‘de-humanising’ practice of manual scavenging with robotics

A manhole accident that happened in Sirsa in August 2020 claimed the life of a sanitation worker who was performing maintenance inside the manhole. Soon after this incident, PHED Sirsa decided to forgo manual scavenging and instead deploy cutting-edge robotic technology called the Bandicoot robot to prevent human casualties. In 2019, the honorable Chief Minister of Haryana unveiled Bandicoot, world’s first robotic scavenger, to the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon MCG. The decision of PHED Sirsa to move to Bandicoot scavenging was critically influenced by the success of robotic scavenging in Gurgaon. For the sanitation workers, putting the concept into action has saved their lives. The robots were trained to be used by sanitation workers, who then began using them for manhole cleaning and maintenance. Following the impact made by this robotic technology in PHED Sirsa, PHED Bhiwani did likewise and has been successfully offering its robotic cleaning service for about two years.

“We decided to work with robotics, and our decision was right,” said Mr. Banu Prasad, Executive Engineer, PHED Sirsa. “Before, working in manholes wasn’t safe, but when we started working with robotics, manual entry was completely stopped, and there is no longer any threat to the sanitation workers’ lives.”

“Before we were using older cleaning methods, so we had to do manual scavenging, which was hazardous to the workers’ lives,” said Junior Engineer Sirsa. “One year ago, PHED implemented the Bandicoot robot, and now our workers don’t have to do manual scavenging (human-entry), and even water-filled manholes can be cleaned using this robot,” he added.

There are other cleaning methods, such as sucking and grabbing machines, however the sucking machine cannot remove solid waste materials, and the grabbing machine can only clean about 20% of the area inside the manhole. In this situation, the authorities were required to deploy human labour, but now Bandicoot robots perform the work, with its human-like robotic arms and wider opening bucket system, outperforms other ways in cleaning manhole blockages by a 100% cleaning efficiency.

Currently, two of 15 circles in the PHED Haryana have switched to robotic manhole cleaning. According to PHED’s Sirsa and Bhiwani reports, such projects can eliminate human entry from manholes and provide sanitation workers with a dignified living as robot operators.

How Bandicoot robotic technology works

These robots have sensors for hazardous gases, which allow operators to be aware of their presence inside manholes. Accidents involving manholes mostly result from poisonous gases. The Bandicoot can narrow its diameter by penetrating the hidden depths of manholes with the use of its legs, and while inside, it uses its legs to move around and increase its stability while dragging out solid garbage. The robot has four specifically built night vision, water, and sewage-proof cameras, so cleaning manholes won’t be threatened by their depth or darkness. Its clever bucket system pushes the waste out of the manhole after collecting all of the waste.

The Bandicoot robot’s user interface is interactive and user-friendly for manual scavengers so that it can aid in rehabilitating the existing manual scavengers to become robot operators and provide them with a respectable quality of life. According to a report by Sirsa and Bhiwani, this initiative has experienced excellent success and has received a lot of support from the general public and government agencies.

About the Bandicoot initiative

Bandicoot robotic technology was developed by Genrobotics, a national award-winning startup. Bandicoot robots mimic and eliminate the need for any human intervention inside the manhole to clean it effectively. This technology won the AMRUT Tech Challenge Award as the Most Promising Innovative Solution for Sanitation by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India. This technology is currently being used by ULBs, Smart Cities, and Refineries across 15 Indian states. The team has rehabilitated over 1700 manual scavengers through #missionrobohole—a mission to end manual scavenging and rehabilitate the existing manual scavengers to robot operators through training and skill development programs. Recently, Zoho Corp invested Rs. 20 crores in this initiative. This initiative is also supported and backed by industrialists such as Anand Mahindra and Rajan Anandan, to bring this innovation to every corner of India.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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