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How is Kerala going to end manual scavenging? Answer to age-old malpractice is robot

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    Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 12: Every time a manual scavenger dies inside a deep pit while cleaning filth without any safety gear, humanity dies a thousand deaths.

    Although the likes of Magsaysay award winner Bezwada Wilson, campaigning for the eradication of manual scavenging and alternate employment opportunities for manual scavengers, are very few, on the ground the age-old malpractice is killing many innocent lives every year.

    manual scavenging

    In this regard, Kerala has taken a noble step by trying to make the best use of modern technology to end manual scavenging--banned across the country, but is still practised everywhere.

    The Kerala government is planning to use robots to clean up sewer holes in an attempt to end the age-old malpractice of manual scavenging in the southern state.

    "Bandicoot", the robot developed by the startup firm Genrobotics, will be used for cleaning sewer holes. On Thursday, the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) and Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for transfer of technology and products, including the use of the robots for the purpose.

    The MoU was signed between the Kerala Water Innovation Zone under the KWA and the KSUM at the Chief Minister's office in Thiruvananthapuram, a statement said.

    "Bandicoot" will start its work, so far mostly done manually, by cleaning sewer holes in the city during the upcoming famed Attukal Pongala festival in Thiruvananthapuram in March, it said.

    The robot has four limbs and a bucket system attached to a spider web looking extension, which can go inside the manhole.

    After shovelling the heap of garbage at the bottom of the manhole, it will be collected by using the bucket system before lifting it upward. It also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules, it said.

    CM Pinarayi Vijayan, Minister for Water Resources Mathew T Thomas, IT Secretary M Sivasankar, KSUM CEO Saji Gopinath, Additional Chief Secretary, Water Resources, Tom Jose, KWA officials and eight representatives from Genrobotics were present on the occasion.

    The KSUM had to fund for the project by Genrobotics, which conducted a field study to find a solution for manual scavenging.

    Meanwhile, the KWA is also conducting research on the issue following the CM's instruction to find a remedy for it. Genrobotics is planning to market the product within six months.

    It has already got enquiries from states like Tamil Nadu to take it to the national level. Founded in 2015, GenRobotics specialises in powered exoskeletons and human-controlled robotic systems.

    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 inside manholes.

    The KSUM is a nodal agency of the Kerala Government for entrepreneurship development and incubation activities in the state.

    As robots are going to take over human jobs for a better tomorrow of manual scavengers, the authorities need to find out alternate livelihood opportunities for the members of the community.

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