Award-Winning Robot Goes Where No Person Can Fit
Tom Lombardo posted on June 07, 2015 |

Heating represents a large portion of energy usage, and poorly-insulated buildings can result in heat losses of up to 50%. Owners are adding insulation to attics and walls, but floor-to-ground insulation can be a problem. Older homes with suspended timber floors - over six million of which exist in the UK alone - don’t have enough room for a person to install insulation from beneath, so the only way to put insulation under the floors is to first remove the floorboards … a costly and time-consuming process. The British company Q-Bot has a solution: a semi-autonomous robot that fits in places where people can’t reach and sprays foam insulation where it needs to be.



I contacted a Q-Bot representative who was kind enough to answer my questions. Keep in mind that much of the technology is proprietary, so the company wasn’t willing to share a lot of specifics.


There and Back: A Robot’s Journey

The Q-Bot enters the under-floor space through a vent opening, as shown on the right side of the following image. If no vent is available, an opening can be cut by a technician.




Using an array of lasers, cameras, and other sensors, the robot scans the area and feeds the data to its on-board computer, which has about the same processing power as you’d find in a modern cell phone.




The computer then makes a 3D map of the territory and plans a route:


If the Q-Bot encounters a problem such as a leaky pipe, it awaits further instructions from a technician. (That’s a side-benefit - the robot can also inspect the underside of the house.) Other than that, it’s an autonomous vehicle. If the zone looks good, the robot moves to the areas that need to be insulated and sends a stream of spray-foam insulation to the underside of the flooring. By knowing the exact dimensions of the space, the robot can spray only as much insulation as needed, without wasting any. Its 3D mapping ability lets it measure the depth of insulation that it’s applying.

After covering the underfloor, the Q-Bot backtracks and makes its way out of the crawl space.


Results

Q-Bot testing was conducted at three UK locations in March of 2014. As a result of adding insulation under the floors, the floor’s U-value - a measure of its heat conductivity - was reduced by a factor of 7.5, and cold air infiltration was reduced by 45%. The combination resulted in a nearly 80% reduction in heat loss through the floors. This saved £150-£215 ($229 - $328) per year in energy costs.


In addition to the improved energy efficiency, the occupants of these buildings reported greater comfort levels. Prior to the underfloor insulation, the difference in temperature from head to foot was 4oC; after insulation it was 2oC.


Where Can I Buy One?

Well … you can’t. According to Mathew Holloway, Managing Director at Q-Bot, “We don't sell robots. We provide a service to our clients (end customers and installers) and the commercial arrangement varies on a number of factors.”




Q-Bot took the “Highly Commended” award in the Chartered Institute of Building’s (CIOB) 2014 International Innovation & Research Awards (Innovation Achievers category). Although the robot was designed for a niche market (figuratively and literally), Holloway hopes to expand beyond the UK’s borders and reach other parts of northern Europe, where many more buildings have suspended timber floors.



Lower heating bills and more comfort - energy efficiency gives people a warm feeling, in more ways than one!


Images courtesy of Q-Bot


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