IIT Madras Develops Robot to Eliminate Manual Scavenging, Set for Field Deployment in Tamil Nadu

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras has developed a robot — HomoSEP — that can eliminate manual scavenging in India. It is currently set for field deployment. A total of ten units have been planned to be deployed across Tamil Nadu with the researchers already in touch with sanitation workers to identify locations. Further, locations in Gujarat and Maharashtra are also being considered, said the institute.

At present, two robots have been distributed to self-help groups led by Nagamma and Ruth Mary whose husbands died tragically during sanitary work, through the support of the NGO, SKA. The task of further distribution of 9 more units, several of which have already been fabricated as per the project plans, is ongoing, the IIT added.

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This robot has been developed over the last several years by a team led by IIT Madras Prof Prabhu Rajagopal, Center for Nondestructive Evaluation, IIT Madras in close touch with sanitary workers, and supported by the NGO, Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA).

“The septic tank is a poisonous environment, filled with semi-solid and semi-fluid human faecal material that make up about two-thirds of the tank. Hundreds of deaths are reported every year across India, due to manual scavenging in Septic Tanks despite bans and prohibitory orders,” said Prof Prabhu Rajagopal.

“The HomoSEP project is unique for the way it has brought together the key stakeholders, including university (our team), NGO, Industry CSR and start-up to develop a solution to an urgent and pressing social problem. No doubt the problem is large and complex, and we hope that our effort serves as an inspiration for others to join in the push,” he added.

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HomoSEP was first developed as a final year masters’ project by Divanshu Kumar under the guidance of Prof Rajagopal and showcased at the IIT Madras Carbon Zerp Challenge 2019. It received seed support from IIT Madras’ Socially Relevant Projects initiative. The researchers then collaborated with an IIT Madras-incubated start-up Solinas Integrity Private Limited to further develop the robot. It can homogenize the hard sludge in septic tanks through custom-developed rotary blade mechanism and pump the tank slurry using an integrated suction mechanism.

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