Touching the void

Robot technology takes a leap into the floor voids to help insulators save heat, cash – and soap

Have you ever imagined a world where robotic devices were able to upgrade properties without humans having to get their hands dirty? That dream just came a step closer with Q-Bot, a semi-autonomous robot designed to enter floor voids in older houses and spray insulation on the underside of floorboards to upgrade thermal performance.

 
Q-Bot ready to start work in the floor voids
Q-Bot ready to start work in the floor voids

The small, remote-controlled device, developed by a team led by trained engineer and Q-Bot managing director Matthew Holloway, promises to provide a cost-effective means of cutting fuel consumption in properties built before 1919 that doesn't involve ripping up or damaging timber floors.

Q-Bot is already turning heads in the industry. The team behind it was recently asked to brief officials at the Department of Energy and Climate Change on how it could benefit the Green Deal and ECO markets.

And two trials carried out on small individual Victorian properties owned by Westminster's CityWest Homes and Camden Council showed positive results, with the sprayed insulation significantly boosting internal temperatures.

Holloway told the RIBA Journal: ‘We installed the insulation last winter and monitored temperatures during the winter and spring. This showed significantly reduced heat loss through the floor – rooms were warmer, less draughty, more comfortable and even quieter. We estimate that these measures will save tenants of each property roughly £200 a year on energy bills.’

How the Q-Bot insulation works.
How the Q-Bot insulation works.

Q-Bot is inserted into underfloor voids by removing a brick or air brick, or by creating a similar-sized cavity, and expanding once inside from a folded up state to about 500mm wide. The robot automatically surveys a space and uses an algorithm to decide the best method to apply the foam-based insulation and deal with any obstructions on the ground. In the unlikely event of a malfunction, it can be retrieved using a cord.

‘Spraying insulation to the underside of floorboards keeps the boards on the warm dry side, and forms a protective barrier against the ground beneath, while still allowing the ground to breath,’ said Holloway. ‘Unlike some other measures that fill the void completely, we leave it largely clear, allowing it to ventilate so there is no moisture build up or damp bridging between the ground and the floor.’

It's a singular hi-tech application that even the likes of JG Ballard or Brian Aldiss would have struggled to come up with.

Q-Bot after spraying.
Q-Bot after spraying.