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IIT-Madras Students Design Septic Tank Robot Which Can Eliminate Manual Scavenging

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Three days ago, four manual scavengers in Tamil Nadu lost their lives while cleaning a septic tank at a factory. The same day, another sanitation worker lost his life while he was cleaning a sewage line in Kurali, Chandigarh. In Gurugram, two more deaths of manual scavengers were reported later that day, who apparently perished from the toxic fumes inside a septic tank.

Although manual scavenging has been prohibited by law in 2013, the practice still exists almost all over India, both in rural and urban setups. Men continue to carry out the inhuman work of manually cleaning noxious sewage waste, risking their lives.

A 2018 report by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) states that in every five days, one person dies while cleaning septic tanks or sewer lines, hinting that a large number of manual scavengers still exists in India.

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SEPoy – a Septic Tank Cleaning Robot

Efforts have been evident time and again from both the government and the non-profit development sector to curb this obsolete practice. Rehabilitation and skill-based employment opportunities have been doled out to keep them engaged in alternative professions.

Recently, a team of IIT-Madras students has found a tech-based solution to the menace. Final year student Divanshu Kumar and his team invented SEPoy – a Septic Tank Cleaning Robot which has the potential to eradicate manual scavenging altogether. Guided by Dr Prabhu Rajgopal, an expert in this domain, the team has developed an advanced design which enables the robot to “cut and homogenize sludge in Septic Tanks so that it can be sucked off using vacuum pumps,” as mentioned in its technical description. The machine, if commercially manufactured, can cost between Rs 10 lakh to Rs 30 lakh, depending on specialisations installed.

SEPoy Manual Scavenging Robot

Meeting with manual scavengers

“Dr Rajagopal has been involved in this project for over four years. In fact, a precursor prototype to our robot was also designed by our seniors Tanmay Mothe and Kranthi Chaitanya. However, after several meetings to Safai Karmacharis (manual scavengers), we realised that we need to upgrade the design, to make it more compliant so that no special skills are required to operate the machine.” informs Divanshu, in a conversation with Efforts For Good.

The machine, which is scheduled to be deployed on site within another three to six months, is specifically designed for septic tanks. “Many people have invented technology to clean sewer lines, but septic tanks pose a higher risk for manual scavengers. We decided to bring this problem to the limelight, which makes our robot distinctive from the manual scavenging robots already in the market,” clarifies Divanshu.

Interaction with the Safai Karmacharis made the team understand how the sludge of a septic tank differs from that of a sewer line. “In septic tanks, the sludge is highly viscous, which makes it difficult for a machine to navigate through. So we needed a robust design. Also, since the hole of a septic tank is very small, our robot needed to be compact. So we made a robot which easily slides into the tank and expands inside,” he shares.

How the SEPoy robot operates

The SEPoy robot comprises bio-inspired propulsion, whose motion is set to mimic the fin movements of a fish inside water. “The machine will go inside the tank and expand. Then it will homogenise the entire sludge and pump it out with a vacuum pump,” Divanshu explains.

High definition cameras with electronic gimbal are attached to the machine body, which turns the robot into a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), that can be monitored and operated from a considerable distance. Inside a septic tank, the robot can move around in three directions and proceed forward by removing the sludge at one place.

SEPoy Manual Scavenging Robot

As of now, the robot has been tested successfully in a mock setup simulated to resemble the environment inside a septic tank. The team is in close touch with NGO Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), which is devoted to eliminating manual scavenging from the country. The NGO has highly appreciated the invention of SEPoy and hopes it aids in their ultimate goal.

Other developmental projects by Divanshu Kumar

Interestingly, this is not the first time Divanshu Kumar has resorted to technology to address a social issue. He has started the organisation Involve Learning to develop leadership proficiency in school students through a peer-to-peer learning system, where senior students are teaching their junior classes.

N/Core Tech

The foundation is operated by Divanshu and two other youth leaders from IIT Madras. They are targeting an outreach up to 1,25,000 students in the next five years.

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Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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KHAANACHAHIYE: Fighting Hunger In COVID19

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Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote
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