Her name is Delta, her head is made from a discarded rice cooker, and she greets those self-isolating with “Assalamualaikum” — peace be upon you — when delivering essentials like food or disinfectant to villagers.
While named for the malicious coronavirus variant circulating now, the white and purple robot has become a benevolent force for good in Tembok Gede, an Indonesian village in East Java where she is bringing some much-needed joy in a country badly battered by the pandemic.
The brainchild of a group of villagers, Delta was created using recycled household goods. Besides her rice cooker head, her torso is made from a boxy television, her arms are fashioned from PVC pipes, and her voice belongs to the wife of one of her creators, Aseyan, a community leader.
“Excuse, me, assalamualaikum…. It’s a delivery,” she says, as she arrives at someone’s home. She is unfailingly polite, saying goodbye to villagers with a hearty “Thank you, I wish you a speedy recovery.” Mindful of these pandemic times, Delta also makes disinfecting rounds each week, sanitizing surfaces as she rolls down the street.
Delta, who is operated by remote control and came to life two weeks ago, has become indispensable to villagers stuck in quarantine. As of now, she can be operated from about 600 feet away. But Aseyan hopes to expand her range by soon controlling her using a phone with an internet connection.
Tembok Gede has become known in Indonesia as a smart village, respected for its upcycling efforts. Delta was originally designed to work as a waitress serving food and drinks at a local food stall. Benazir Imam Arif Muttaqin, one of the leaders of this project, said she was made in collaboration with the Telkom Institute of Technology Surabaya and the Adhi Tama Institute of Technology Surabaya.
But Aseyan said she was repurposed, as the pandemic raged, as a way of reaching villagers suffering from coronavirus in sometimes densely populated areas, without exposing real people to risk.
“There was a person who was self-isolating and asked us to send her goods,” he said. He put vegetables and food in the Delta’s torso and sent the robot to her house via remote control.
Last month, Indonesia became a new epicenter of the pandemic, temporarily surpassing India and Brazil to become the country with the world’s highest count of new infections. As of Wednesday, the country had reported a total of 3.7 million cases and more than 112,000 deaths.
Currently, 71 districts and cities in Indonesia are under tough restrictions, with schools operating remotely, local markets limiting visitors and local businesses closing at 8 p.m.