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End To Manual Scavenging? IIT Madras Develops Robot To Clean Septic Tanks Without Human Intervention

Named “HomoSEP”, a total of ten units have been planned to be deployed across Tamil Nadu with the researchers in touch with sanitation workers to identify the locations.

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras have developed a robot that can help eliminate manual scavenging in India by cleaning septic tanks without human intervention.

Named "HomoSEP", a total of ten units have been planned to be deployed across Tamil Nadu with the researchers in touch with sanitation workers to identify the locations, officials said. They added that Gujarat and Maharashtra are being considered for deploying these robots in the next phase.

Currently, the first two HomoSEP units have been distributed to self-help groups (SHFGs) led by Nagamma and Ruth Mary, whose husbands died during sanitation work, through the support of the NGO, Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), The Print reported.

"The septic tank is a poisonous environment, filled with semi-solid and semi-fluid human faecal material that make up nearly two-thirds of the tank," said Prof Prabhu Rajagopal from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras.

Hundreds Die Every Year Due To Manual Scavenging

"Despite bans and prohibitory orders, hundreds of deaths are reported annually across the country due to manual scavenging in septic tanks," he added.

The professor explained that using an integrated suction mechanism, these robots can homogenise the hard sludge in septic tanks through a custom-developed rotary blade mechanism and pump tank slurry.

Training To Be Provided To Workers

"After being provided relevant training, appropriate guidance and necessary safety measures, sanitation workers can operate the HomoSEP independently. Our team is working on it right now," he said.

HomoSEP was first developed as a final year masters' project by Divanshu Kumar under the guidance of Professor Rajagopal and showcased at the IIT Madras Carbon Zerp Challenge 2019. It received seed support from IIT Madras' Socially Relevant Projects initiative.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges over the next two years, the researchers collaborated with an IIT Madras-incubated start-up Solinas Integrity Private Limited to further develop HomoSEP.

"This is a historic move as Nagamma, a widow of a worker who died in a septic tank, becomes the owner and an entrepreneur of mechanised septic tank cleaning services," said Deepthi Sukumar, national core team member of the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA).

She added that this enterprise will focus on changing the lives of sanitation worker communities with dignified livelihoods by providing mechanised sanitation solutions to stop manual scavenging deaths. Further, it will engage with IIT Madras for their technical expertise and support.

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