A college professor in southern India has developed a robot with a human-like arm to help rescue children who accidentally fall into open borewells, a common occurrence in the country. Jim Drury reports.
EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS CONVERTED 4:3 MATERIAL Indian college professor M. Manikandan was terrified when his three-year-old son fell into an open pit. SOUNDBITE (Tamil) BOREWELL ROBOT INVENTOR, M. MANIKANDAN, SAYING: "In 2003, while I was doing some plumbing my son, who was playing outside, fell in a borewell. He was soon rescued but this incident made me feel that I should do something." So he invented this - a robot designed to pull stricken children from abandoned borewells left by workers drilling for water. (FILE RESCUE PICS HERE ?) Hundreds of feet deep, the wells are a common sight throughout this part of India where water is scarce - but they are often deadly for children who find them by accident. Manikandan's robot has arms and clamps that resemble fingers to grab a child. A pulley system is deployed to drag the child to the surface. SOUNDBITE (Tamil) BOREWELL ROBOT INVENTOR, M. MANIKANDAN, SAYING: "The concept was to create something which could go into the borewell like a human; a robot which had a human-like hand." The device is battery operated and works with the aid of an air piston. Equipped with a night-vision camera, it can project live footage onto a TV monitor to help rescue workers find a trapped child and manoeuvre the robot. SOUNDBITE (Tamil) BOREWELL ROBOT INVENTOR, M. MANIKANDAN, SAYING: "It's been linked to a modern camera which even functions in the dark. It doesn't need electricity and it can take pictures at any depth." In a country where unmarked and unattended boreholes are increasingly common, Manikandan believes that a future mass-produced version of his device could help save lives.