Bandicoot, the spider-shaped robot that cleans manholes and sewers with precision, has won the Aarohan Social Innovation Gold Award instituted by the Infosys Foundation, the philanthropic arm of information technology giant Infosys.
The award carries a prize money of Rs 20 lakh.
Bandicoot won the award in the sustainability sector.
Awards were also announced in healthcare, rural development and destitute care sectors.
Designed by nine engineers from Kerala, Bandicoot was launched in February 2018 after its successful trial run in Thiruvananthapuram, unclogging five manholes filled with plastic, filth, medical waste and sediments.
The Kerala Water Authority has been using Bandicoot in Thiruvananthapuram since then. The service will be launched in Kochi soon.
The engineers had formed a company - Genrobotics - to develop the robot.
"Our aim is to end manual scavenging in India. The Infosys Foundation's Aarohan Award recognises our efforts,” Vimal Govind, the company’s 27-year-old chief executive officer, told Onmanorama on Wednesday.
Bandicoot in 10 states
Apart from Kerala, Bandicoot cleans sewers in nine other states, such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Assam, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. "The robots will be pressed into service in Karnataka and West Bengal soon," said Vimal.
Genrobotics has supplied 50 units in different states so far. "Our services do not stop with the supply of the device. We are responsible for the management of the device," he said.
With Bandicoot entering different states, the nine-member Technopark-based company too grew into a 100-staff organisation. “We are still growing,” Vimal said.
How does Bandicoot work?
The 80-kg robot lifts the heavy metal cover on its own, drops its arm into the manhole, scoops out the solid waste and dumps it in a bucket.
All the operations can be viewed on a monitor. The robot can also be used to check the sewage apart from jetting the sewer lines.
Bandicoot requires only one person to operate it from a safe distance.
How Bandicoot was born?
Bandicoot was born after many brainstorming sessions by a group of nine mechanical engineering students at MES Engineering College in Kuttippuram, Malappuram, since 2015.
After finishing college in 2016, they continued to work on robots.
They got a breakthrough when the Kerala Startup Mission, a start-up incubator launched by the Kerala government, offered to fund their project.
The team started to work on manhole cleaning robots in June 2017 and launched Bandicoot’s beta version in January 2018.
Aarohan awards were established in 2018 to recognize individuals, teams, and NGOs for creating innovative solutions to support the underprivileged in India.
Ten social innovators awarded a total prize money of Rs 1.5 crore.
Apart from the Gold Award, the foundation has announced silver awards (Rs 10 lakh each) for five innovators in healthcare and rural development sectors.
The winners were shortlisted from a pool of over 1,700 submissions.
"It is a great honour to win the award," said Vimal Govind.
Aarohan Gold Award (Prize money of Rs 20 lakh)
Sustainability: Engineers from Kerala, who developed ‘Bandicoot’
Healthcare: Partha Pratim Das Mahapatra from Kolkata, who developed a non-invasive, non-contact robust hand-held portable device to measure human bilirubin, oxygen saturation, and haemoglobin levels, without drawing blood from the body.
Healthcare: Dr Binita S. Tunga and Dr Rashbehari Tunga from Bengaluru, who created a single device that detects the three most prevalent mosquito-borne diseases: Malaria, Chikungunya, and Dengue, effectively and accurately, in the very early stages of infection.
Healthcare: TUMAAS (Foundation for Tuberculosis, Malnutrition and AIDS) from Mumbai for developing a point-of-care, user-friendly, cost-effective, and rapid test for diagnosis of TB through urine.
Destitute Care: Ramalingam PL from Chennai, who created an affordable standing wheelchair that helps special children and individuals with spinal cord injury.