Indian robotics-based startup to ‘sample sewage’ for COVID-19 traces

This method of contact-tracing is a complementary approach to individual testing for broader city-wide monitoring of the spread of Covid-19.

By   |  Published: 21st Nov 2020  12:56 pm

New Delhi: In a move to to sample sewage at source to detect and prevent future Covid-19 outbreaks, UnLtd India backed start-up and healthcare innovator Fluid Robotics says it will use automated robotic technology in India’s network of wastewater pipes, drains and nalas.

In a statement, the company said, “For months, the Government has been trying to conduct city-wide contact tracing that will enable them to detect and reduce the spread of the virus. The Maharashtra Government is working with Fluid Robotics to determine and detect the exact locations, perceive large concentrations of infections and control the spread of the virus via the vast network of wastewater pipes under cities.”

With the number of infections escalating rapidly in many states along with a large population of asymptomatic cases, it has become crucial and imperative to implement innovative technology that enables accurate tracking of the virus with no risk of human exposure.

“Based on breakthrough research in the Netherlands, Fluid Robotics has developed a last-mile impact robotic technology to safely sample and trace the virus in sewage. These underwater robots collect samples from difficult-to-access drains and nalas across the city while carefully storing them at the required temperatures to ensure the preservation of Covid-19 RNA.

“Fluid Robotics has also developed a molecular testing protocol that is being used to prepare labs for testing the collected sewage samples. In this way, the municipal authorities can accurately track and trace not only symptomatic but also asymptomatic populations. With this, authorities are also able to funnel their support to health officials in high-risk areas and contain the spread,” it said.

This method of contact-tracing is a complementary approach to individual testing for broader city-wide monitoring of the spread of Covid-19.

Fluid Robotics, set up by social entrepreneurs Asim Bhalerao and his wife Nidhi Jain in 2019, said it has also begun discussions with US institutions for Covid-19 monitoring to predict and prevent outbreaks in colleges and other institutions as they open.

Originally, the start-up was established to combat the water and sewage crisis faced by many overpopulated cities, where 50-60 per cent water is lost in distribution, and 70-80 per cent wastewater enters lakes and rivers, untreated. Fluid Robotics’ FluidHealth system scans and maps underground sewage pipes to redirect detrimental sewage away from freshwater bodies towards sewage treatment plants. This aids cities in increasing the efficiency of water supply and wastewater management.

The current crisis has highlighted the importance and adoption of technology in every aspect of our lives. Government authorities are recognizing that robotic technology can be deployed to detect new as well as recurring infections thus helping the healthcare system to prevent or prepare for further outbreaks, says the start-up.