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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‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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