If the word 'manhole' took its origin from the fact that they are so designed for a man to enter it to perform cleaning, maintenance, and inspection of disposal systems, we might soon need to look for a better word. Manhole cleaning and inspection has become increasingly mechanized and on a promising and positive note, the robots are taking over.
The problem of blocked drains is one which we’ve battled for quite some time. For a long time, we’ve had no option but to unclog a drain manually. In the process, this would expose people to a toxic and extremely unhygienic environment which could lead to a plethora of health issues. Ranging from fatigue, pneumonia, cardiovascular disorders, and infections, this task could lead to immediate collapse and even death from inhaling toxic gases. According to human rights organization Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), there have been 1560 instances of related deaths in India since 1993. But hopefully, all of that is about to change, thanks to a new startup and the sophisticated automaton that it has built.
Genrobotics Innovations was founded in 2017 by a group of friends from college, and their initial work focused on building exoskeletons that enhanced human capability to undertake demanding tasks. When the plight of manual scavengers came to their attention, they dived right in to find a solution. They designed the robot 'Bandicoot' which works in a way implied by its name (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Bandicoot 2.0 is the latest version of Genrobotics Innovations' robot scavenger. (Source: Genrobotics Innovations)
Named after a marsupial which digs for food, the robot begins its operations by lifting the heavy manhole cover using a powerful electromagnet. It then enters the manhole by shortening its diameter, and lodges itself stably at a position of optimum depth using its four limbs against the walls. With wheels at the ends, the limbs allow effortless downward and upward movement within the manhole. The robotic arm with a 3-in-1 universal end effector can then remove the solid sludge that clog the drain, through its pick and shoveling actions. The versatility of the arm permits it to position the sewer jets or other tools that are generally handled by a human, and it can also perform a 'tactile' inspection of the manhole interior.
Bandicoot 2.0, the latest version of the robot can be operated in automatic and manual modes. The robot uses the feed from seven machine vision cameras to find its way through the drain and remove the blockage while being operated automatically. Manholes with a non-standard structure or size can be maneuvered in the manual mode. The bandicoot's user interface for manual operation is simple enough for laborers to navigate, and with minimal training, they can be rehabilitated into a much safer and dignified means of livelihood. The robot is built using Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) and is Level 4 Nano coated, allowing it to exhibit structural integrity and corrosion resistance. Genrobotics has also developed a Manhole Monitoring System, a preventive mechanism with Global Positioning System (GPS) and sensors which alerts the authorities if a manhole is in the brink of getting flooded from blockage.
Team Genrobotics is on a mission to replace manholes with 'roboholes' and has so far seen tremendous success thanks to the Indian state governments' immediate adoption of the company's ingenious solutions. The widely acclaimed startup has won numerous awards and grants from different quarters in its first year of operation, recognizing and incentivizing the positive social impact that it can bring about. Genrobotics has been selected among the first batch of startups by Google Launchpad India Accelerator 2018 and has acquired mentors from the MIT. The enterprise has gained clients outside of India as well, with the company opening its first offshore office in Dubai, UAE, and it plans to expand its operations to Africa in the coming months.
Adil Abdul Kareem is a Product Content Specialist at Mouser Electronics. He has worked as a writer for the business magazine SIliconIndia. He follows tech-trends and latest developments in the field of AI.
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