Little robot with big plans to insulate 6m homes
Thousands of pre-1919 homes owned by the Peabody Trust, Westminster's CityWest Homes and Camden Council could be the first to trial a new robotic system that sprays insulation underneath wooden floorboards – said to be a more cost-effective means of cutting fuel consumption in older properties than internal wall insulation or double glazing.
The team behind the Q-Bot semi-autonomous robot was also last week invited to brief officials at the Department of Energy and Climate Change on what the system could offer the Green Deal and ECO markets.
The robot is designed to be inserted into the void between floors, or between the floor and the ground, by removing a brick, an air brick, an access hatch or by creating a similar-sized cavity.
Although it is to some degree remote-controlled by an on-site operator, the device also surveys the space automatically then makes autonomous decisions about the best way to apply the foam-based insulation and deal with any obstructions.
“It carries out operations autonomously, but it’s not quite at the level of sending a robot to Mars,” said Mathew Holloway, managing director of Q-Bot.
The device also measures U-values before and after the application of insulation, which can be either polyurethane or cellulose based. If the device malfunctions insitu, it can be retrieved via an “umbilical cord”.
"We wanted to create tools for the industry that are intelligent, and have quality control built in - ie robots. They allow us to take dirty, dangerous tasks and convert them into clean processes."
Mathew Holloway, Q-Bot
Q-Bot says that the underfloor device is just the first of several robotic-platforms it hopes to launch into the construction sector. It has previously won funding from DECC’s Emerging Entrepreneurs Fund and the Technology Strategy Board, and last month, the company received investment from the EcoMachines Incubator Accelerator programme.
Holloway told CM: “It’s often observed that construction has an ageing workforce, and little progress on productivity and cost effectiveness. So we wanted to create tools for the industry that are intelligent, and have quality control built in – ie robots. They allow us to take dirty, dangerous tasks and convert them into clean processes.”
Holloway is a trained engineer and serial entrepreneur who previously developed the Cool-phase ventilation system, while business partner Tom Lipinski is an architect with a specialism in sustainability.
The duo have targeted owners of large pre-1919 property portfolios, explaining that a workable method of underfloor insulation is more appealing to landlords and less disruptive to tenants compared to loft or internal wall insulation projects.
But the Q-Bot team is also interested in talking to contractors who might be interested in partnering arrangements. “We want to prove the system works, and the construction industry will want to make sure it’s reliable. Then we will look to lease the equipment to contractors or work with them to deliver at scale,” said Holloway.
The system is said to be suitable for two thirds of Victorian and Edwardian homes, and it’s hoped that additional refinements could boost that number.
Holloway added: “We’ve found tenants like it because it stops draughts coming up from the floor – and if your feet are slightly colder than your head, you tend to be very aware of it. For the properties we’ve been working on, pay back is a lot less than boilers or double glazing or internal wall insulation.”