His brainchild is a robot that trundles under floors packing a 3D scanner and insulating foam, designed to make one of energy efficiency's trickiest jobs easier. The idea sprang from a Retrofit for the Future, an Innovate UK-funded project. Lipinski explained:
“One of the biggest challenges was laying floor insulation in older homes. The status quo was to remove tenants, rip out carpets and underlay, pull up floorboards, then try and fit insulation between the joints – then really just hope it held in place somehow. Of course with people walking on the floorboards, within a few years half of it was no longer in place.
What followed was 18 months research, looking at current approaches and what was – and, more commonly, wasn't – working. Lipinski explained:
“We knew that moisture-resistant insulation had to be sprayed from beneath to completely encase the floor, but it's something so difficult for a person to do, as it's tough to get in the right places, and the chemicals in insulating foam are quite nasty during application. We kind of fell into robotics as a way of doing this.
“Some people come out of university and get into robotics because it's 'cool tech' and then try to find a solution that their work fits to. This was the opposite approach: we knew what solution was needed – then it was the hard work in robotics that had to be done from scratch.”
It's claimed that Q-Bot can deliver heat loss reductions through suspended timber floors of up to 85 per cent, while reducing installation time to one to two days.
With such seemingly obvious benefits, why has the great floor insulation conundrum not been tackled before? Lipinski reckons it's a mix of negativity and technology. He explained:
“People have tended to say it wasn't possible to do it, so didn't even try. But people like Elon Musk are now showing us that if you think something is possible, you'll eventually make it so. Then, only in the last two or three years has the technology come on to allow the robotic solution to work. It's now possible to carry a 3D scanner on top of the robot with hardware powerful enough to do the job.
“Electronics have moved on a lot, and it's generally not down to the big technology companies, but small start-ups. Although it's not exactly cheap to build a robot at around £50,000, compare that to five years ago and you'd be talking ten times that. It's a mix of vision and affordability that's brought us here.”
The typical home in which the Q-Bot gets to work is an early twentieth century low-rise, three-bedroom housing association property, often occupied by a family in fuel poverty.
Demand is high. The company currently has three robots capable of spraying insulation, and is working on six more. He added:
“Currently it's all about maintaining and growing the robot fleet. This is just the start – the scale needs to increase to make an impact right across the UK. We've got to move the construction sector forward, and insulation prices down.
“This is one of the cheapest EPC upgrades you can make apart from loft insulation, which most housing association properties have already. Beyond being cool and funky, the role of robotics is to create a better-value, quality and durable way of doing something difficult.”
This is a great example of energy efficiency, innovation and technological advancement – but with or without robots, you can make a start on ensuring your home is more comfortable and cheaper to heat.