In a major step towards ending the practice of manual scavenging, the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) and Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) on Thursday entered into a formal agreement on use of robots developed by a startup firm for cleaning sewer holes.

The Kerala Water Innovation Zone, formed under KWA, and KSUM signed a memorandum of understanding in this connection at the office of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The robot - named Bandicoot - developed by startup firm GenRobotics, is set to be operational during the annual Attukal Pongala festival in Thiruvananthapuram, in March.

Bandicoot on mission

The Bandicoot comes with four limbs and a bucket system attached to a spider web-like extension that goes into the sewer, shovels the garbage and collects it in the bucket which is then lifted out. It also has Wi-Fi and bluetooth modules, an official statement said. "The robot is powered by pneumatics (using gas or pressurised air) since using heavy electronic equipment inside is risky as they can react with the explosive gases present in the manhole," it said. Bandicoot monitors the manholes through pictorial representations of manholes, inspects the conditions including gaseous information and blocks and then, commences the clean-up.

Work on the project had commenced following the chief minister's intervention seeking alternatives to manual scavenging, done by workers in dangerous conditions. The Chief Minister's Office said ideas were invited from young entrepreneurs and the Bandicoot prototype, developed by eight engineers in GenRobotics, was selected by a panel of experts.

The KSUM, the state government's nodal agency for entrepreneurship development and incubation, funded the project. GenRobotics is planning to market Bandicoot within six months and the innovation has generated interest among states including Tamil Nadu.


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