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Fast and economic insulation of buildings using robotic systems

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Q-Bot (Fast and economic insulation of buildings using robotic systems)

Reporting period: 2016-11-01 to 2017-10-31

Across Europe, there is a large housing stock built before 1945, of which a high proportion have uninsulated floors and/or uninsulated solid walls. In the UK there are as many as 10 million homes with suspended timber floors; of these an estimated 95% remain uninsulated. Recent studies demonstrate that suspended timber floors can contribute as much as 1/4 of the total heat loss. Across Northern Europe, in countries such as France, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Ireland and Belgium, similar construction methods were used and there are many uninsulated suspended timber and concrete floors.

The heat-loss from suspended ground floors includes not just conductive heat loss to the ground and surroundings, but also the infiltration of cold air through the void and floor, driving heat loss through the rest of the property, even if the building has other energy efficiency measures such as double glazing and loft insulation. Such houses are expensive to heat but also suffer cold draughts and uneven temperatures significantly impacting occupants' comfort.

Effective underfloor insulation of existing buildings is one of the greatest challenges to Europe-wide retrofit activity aimed at improving energy performance. In the UK, less than 3% of 'hard to treat' properties with solid walls and suspended timber floors have had their floors insulated. Thermal insulation of floors is not only one of the greatest contributors to energy performance of older buildings, but is one of the most challenging measures to retrofit. Current methods for floor insulation are disruptive, labour-intensive and can be very costly. This severely limits the uptake and discourages most property owners from undertaking the work.

To resolve the challenges associated with the retrofit of underfloor insulation Q-Bot has developed an innovative process using a remotely controlled robotic device that can survey, assess and apply insulation. A robot is inserted through an air vent from outside the building, or by making a small access hatch from the inside of the property, and applies insulation to the underside of the floor. The robot can successfully navigate under floor voids and fit through gaps in sleeper walls by folding/unfolding. Q-Bot has shown that using this system underfloor insulation can be installed in 1-2 days, at a fraction of the cost and none of the hassle of traditional methods.
The progress over the course of the 24-month project against these objectives is as follows:

1. Development of a Fully Working Demonstrator: The project started by putting together a requirements specification and defining the systems architecture. This was used to guide the product development process and develop the fully working demonstrator. Following the design, detailed engineering, development of the control system and design for manufacture, SprayBot was manufactured, commissioned and was used to deliver installations at live customer sites. 1. The new SprayBot design also improved the ease of production as well as service and maintenance of the robots going forward, it is now suitable for commercial launch and has been demonstrated to work reliably and consistently. The team have been able to insulate more than 120 homes (in the UK and France) during the project to put the design through its paces and Q-Bot has achieved a step change in throughput to deliver TRL 9 (actual system proven in operational environment)

2. Customer and Partner Trials: Generally, the feedback from residents and customers has indicated that they have seen a significant improvement in comfort, consider the service good value for money, and are pleased with the minimal hassle and practical issues of the install. The results show on average, a 1/3 improvement in airtightness and a 78% reduction in the calculated heat loss through the floor. Based on the SAP assessments, Q-Bot has saved an average 14% of the energy required to heat the property and reduced CO2 emissions by 500-1,700kgs/yr per home. Q-Bot was the most cost-effective solution available (£ per EPC point). In situ data monitoring and an in-depth study by means of a co-heat test has shown much higher savings and a 1/4 reduction in the whole house heat loss, indicating that the SAP methodology underestimated heat loss from the floor. The results also show the variability in properties encountered with smaller more energy efficient properties showing lower savings but properties in some regions achieving a reduction of €300-400/year in energy bills. Residents were contacted for a post installation survey and were in general very pleased with the process and the impact the insulation had on their home, 84% of respondents would recommend Q-Bot to other residents. For those residents who were able to comment on the impact on the energy costs, two thirds said their energy costs were slightly or significantly less expensive and half said their energy costs had reduced by about €160 per year or more.

3. Prepare for Market Launch: In July 2017, Q-Bot received British Board of Agrément (BBA) certification and the robots are fully CE Marked for use by third parties. This certification is a pre-requisite in order to access larger commercial contracts and so also effectively forms a barrier to entry in the short to medium term. In order for Q-Bot and third parties to deliver installations, Q-Bot has delivered robust health and safety procedures and training programmes and associated documentation that allows third party installers to deliver the service. To protect its advantage Q-Bot has expanded its Intellectual Property portfolio over the period of the project and currently has 2 granted patents with a further 24 individual fillings pending across four families. During the project Q-Bot has put in place all the components needed to launch the service into the market. Initially Q-Bot is targeting social housing providers in the UK and France and using these programmes to underpin the creation of delivery channels in each region.
Over the course of this project Q-Bot has developed a unique approach for the retrofit of under floor insulation. The innovations developed include:
1. The insulation system - The overall system for the remote application of insulation is highly innovative, both in its concept and execution, enabling insulation to be accurately and consistently applied.
2. Robotics platform - A modular robotic platform that can be used to create a variety of tools to access confined spaces and operate in hazardous environments and over difficult terrain.
3. Control systems - Including the algorithms and techniques for sensor fusion, surveying and mapping, navigation and control of the robotics platform.

Over the next 5 years Q-Bot has the opportunity to create >1,000 high skilled jobs in the construction and engineering industry, while insulating 100,000’s of homes. The resulting energy savings will make a significant contribution to meeting European targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore Q-Bot will have a very significant impact across society, the construction industry and the environment, and without the SME Instrument it is unlikely this would ever have been possible.
Iteration 2 SprayBot applying insulation
Iteration 2 SprayBot
Iteration 2 SprayBot
Iteration 2 SprayBot scanning void