The robot that IIT Madras developed to clean septic tanks without human intervention is ready for field trials

Manually flushing septic tanks is not only inhumane, it also causes a large number of deaths. However, this practice could change very soon, as researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras have developed a robot called “HomoSEP” that can eliminate manual rinsing. “HomoSEP” is ready for field use. It plans to deploy a total of ten units across Tamil Nadu, with researchers already in contact with sanitation workers to identify locations. Locations in Gujarat and Maharashtra are also being considered.

Currently, with the support of the NGO SKA, the first two HomoSEP units have been distributed to self-help groups led by Mrs. Nagamma and Mrs. Ruth Mary, whose husbands tragically died while doing sanitation work.

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This robot has been developed in recent years by a team led by Prof. Prabhu Rajagopal, Center for Non-Destructive Assessment, IIT Madras, and Faculty, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras, together with the start-up Solinas Integrity Private founded by IIT Madras developed Limited. The team was in close contact with sanitation workers and was supported by the NGO Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA) which is dedicated to eliminating manual cleaning in India led by Prof. Rajagopal and presenting at the IIT Madras Carbon Zerp Challenge 2019 after it had received start-up help from the initiative for socially relevant projects of the IIT Madras. Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic over the next few years, researchers at IIT Madras collaborated with an IIT Madras-founded start-up Solinas Integrity Private Limited (now led by Mr. Divanshu) to further develop HomoSEP.How the HomoSEP robot worksHow the HomoSEP robot works

The HomoSEP robot can homogenize the hard sludge in septic tanks by a specially designed rotary knife mechanism and pump the tank sludge with an integrated suction mechanism. Sanitary workers will be able to operate the HomoSEP independently after receiving the appropriate training and proper guidance, as well as the required safety measures, which our team is currently working on. Security plays a crucial role in this entire process, starting with the design of HomoSEP itself.

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“The septic tank is a toxic environment, filled with semi-solid and semi-liquid human feces that make up about two-thirds of the tank. Hundreds of deaths attributed to manual cleaning in septic tanks are reported across India every year, despite bans and prohibition orders.”

– Prof. Prabhu Rajagopal, Principal Investigator of Project and Faculty, Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras

In the unique model that is being pioneered, IIT Madras is empowering companies set up by such self-help groups, whose main actors will be women affected by the tragic consequences of manual cleaning. The task of further distribution of 9 more units, some of which have already been manufactured according to the project plans, is underway.

Prof. Prabhu Rajagopal added: “The HomoSEP project is unique in the way it has brought together the key stakeholders including the university (our team), NGO, industry CSR and start-up to come up with a solution for to develop an urgent and urgent social problem. Undoubtedly, the problem is large and complex, and we hope our efforts will inspire others to join the push.”

This groundbreaking project was initially supported by several CSR donors over the years, starting with the WIN Foundation in 2019 for the first prototype development. Between 2019-20, GAIL (India) supported further product development and CapGemini supported miniaturization and portability efforts of the robot through their CSR initiatives. In the last year, the NSE Foundation and the L&T Technology Services Foundation have commissioned the manufacture and distribution of 8 and 2 HomoSEP robots respectively, again through CSR support.

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