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

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

Dubbed “HomoSEP,” a total of 10 units are to be deployed across Tamil Nadu, with researchers contacting 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, with support from NGO Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), to self-help groups (SHFGs) led by Nagamma and Ruth Mary, whose husbands died doing sanitation work, The Print reported.

“The septic tank is a toxic environment, filled with semi-solid and semi-liquid human feces that make up nearly two-thirds of the tank,” said Prof Prabhu Rajagopal of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at IIT Madras.

Hundreds die every year due to manual cleaning

“Despite bans and cease and desist orders, hundreds of deaths are reported annually across the country due to manual cleaning in septic tanks,” he added.

The professor explained that these robots with an integrated suction mechanism can homogenize the hard sludge in septic tanks through a specially designed rotary knife mechanism and pump tank sludge.

training for workers

“After appropriate training, appropriate guidance and necessary safety measures, sanitary workers can operate the HomoSEP independently. Our team is working on it right now,” he said.

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

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

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

She added that this company will focus on transforming the lives of sanitation worker communities with dignified livelihoods by providing mechanized sanitation solutions to stop manual trap deaths. In addition, it will work with IIT Madras for their technical expertise and support.

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