Little robot with big plans to insulate 6m homes

5 August 2014

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.”


Some problem with timber decay/void ventilation at ground.
Any details we should be aware of if we use the q-bot?

Richard , 29 July 2014

Without correct analysis for each site with regard to condensation, lack of vapour barrier detailing, reduced ventilation around timber items, the system potentially could induce long term problems, especially from spills interior downwards - like other systems, short term gain, but will it induce long term pain /costs & what happens to services in such voids??

J. Sandland MCIOB MRICS MCABE, 29 July 2014

The insulation is applied to the underside of the floorboards, keeping them on the warm dry side, and forming a protective barrier, while still allowing the ground to breathe below. Since we ensure the vents are clear during the install and void is well ventilated, we have only observed positive effects on the condition of the house and floor. However this is a very complex issue and certainly one that needs further discussion.

Mathew , 29 July 2014

I guess the success will depend on the accuracy of the applied thickness of product and how well it cleans up after itself

Peter Marchant, 30 July 2014

I would be very interested to see how the system could cope with an uneven surface under ground floors.
Often the sub base under the ground floor, especially in houses built prior to building regulations becoming national, are not concreted and are strewn with debris and are very uneven. I think some sort of automatic levelling for the machine or the use of a robotic arm for spraying the foam may/would overcome this.
Having said that I think the idea is very good especially compared with trying to insulate these areas by hand, the comfort and the benefit in heating savings for the householder could make the payback period very competitive.

Peter Wharton MCIOB, 30 July 2014

What a fantastic, innovative product. Way to go in the competitive construction industry today. I wish Mathew Holloway, his team and Q-bot all the best for a rewarding future.

Barry Higgs, 1 August 2014

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