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The 4 young engineers who put an end to manual scavenging in India

KOCHI: Things weren’t that easy for four young engineers in Kerala – Arun George, Nikhil N P, Rashid K, and Vimal Govind M K — when they mooted the idea of developing a robot that could go down the sewage manholes and clean it. Though they have been developing many robotic products ever since their college days at MES College of Engineering, Kuttippuram, in Malappuram, the idea of developing a robotic scavenger in 2017 gave their life a new dimension. They set up a company called Genrobotics to develop the robotic scavenger called ‘Bandicoot’.

After facing a lot of hurdles, Genrobotics has now revenues climbing from Rs 25.6 lakh in FY18 to Rs 12.73 crore in FY21. The company has not only managed to wipe out a loss of Rs 1.71 lakh it incurred in FY18, the first year of operations, but also ended FY21 with a profit of Rs 3.71 crore. The company has raised investments from venture capitalists (VCs) like Unicorn India Ventures and SaaS major Zoho. Industrialist Anand Mahindra is also one of the angel investors in the company. 

Genrobotics has supplied nearly 200 Bandicoot machines to 16 states and one Union Territory, playing its part in the fight to eliminate manual scavenging that continues despite being outlawed by the government through  Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, and Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.  “Our vision is to make Genrobotics a global brand focussing on solutions in the robotics sector,” said Vimal Govind MK, one of the co-founders. “We want to build a brand over the long term; for that we want to remain profitable, and all our financial planning is centred around that.” 

The company now has a 12,000 sq ft production floor in Thiruvananthapuram, and another 7,000 sq ft in Palakkad, where they are also setting up a 20,000 sq ft workspace. “Once we started deploying Bandicoot, we started getting a lot of offers, but didn’t have the bandwidth to handle those,” says Arun George, another co-founder. “So, we decided to build production capabilities from where we could operate independently. If we outsourced, we wouldn’t have been able to control the lead time.”

With the first production facility set up in Thiruvananthapuram, Genrobotics started manufacturing two to three units of Bandicoot per month. Subsequently, the capacity has gone up 10x to 20 to 30 units a month. Besides, several upgrades appended to the machine—moving from aluminium to carbon fibre structures, thereby shaving off 10 kg, adding extra cameras, improving camera quality, developing a software platform to train operators in two to three days instead of the earlier one month—have elevated the Bandicoot to its 2.0 avatar. 

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