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To save heat/cooling energy, microbots could map out wall cavities, seal air leaks, create vapor barriers; and fill them with insulation




Existing wood frame and brick structures often have wall cavities that leak air and water vapor, and ilarge amounts of heat.

The existing solution is to drill holes in the interior walls, and blow in foam insulation or cellulose.  But this neither creates a true vapor barrier, nor insulates uniformly.

Insulating without a vapor barrier can cause wall rot, attracting borer insects.   And just a few areas that are left uninsulated in a wall can nullify much of the benefit of the insulating the rest.


Suggested solution:

Deploy microbots into the wall cavity, through holes drilled in the inside wallboard.  First, small agile microbots which explore and map the peripheries of each cavity and its features and obstacles (e.g. electrical boxes), its air leaks, vapor permeance, etc.

Second, analyzing the exploration, and deploy stronger tube-pulling microbots into each cavity.  The tubes are umbilical  "tails," supplying power, vapor barrier fluid, and insulating foam/fill to the microbot "heads".  These larger microbots navigate to the peripheries of the wall cavity, while (i) plugging air leaks, and (ii) applying appropriate vapor barrier. 

After the leak plugs and vapor barrier pass testing, e.g., with a blower door and vapor tests, the microbots spray foam/fill, into the peripheries of the cavity, then they retreat back to the entry hole(s), still spraying foam/fill behind them, until the whole cavity is insulation filled.

Some microbots may be left operating, embedded in the cavity, to sense temperature and moisture levels.

To help microbots navigate the wall cavities and avoid electrical boxes etc, keepouts and other guidance information can be provided by an operator, and by nav/comm/power devices suctioned to the living space or weather sides of the wall.

The microbots concept can be adapted to other retrofit applications, such as inspection, HVAC, pulling electric wires, or HVAC, and will benefit from robotics development in these applications.



What actions do you propose?

Evaluate the market:  number of possible buildings, cost of insulation and ROI, cost of energy and CO2, cost/benefits of traditional insulation and air/vapor barrier methods.  Determine key markets/low hanging fruit: e.g.,[2015QBot]

  1. Ideally, create contest whereby the needed robotic technology might be created and tested by universities and research centers
  2. Find and court lead customers to develop and use this (or a better) microbotic insulating technique.  Debug, reduce costs, and reduce to practice, or reject method as appropriate.

Who will take these actions?

While research of enabling technologies is expected to be lead by university-type teams, the pilot implementation may be lead by insulating/retrofit/construction teams.

Governments can support the effort by helping building owners overcome/recoup the cost of building energy retrofit.

Where will these actions be taken?

While the research of enabling technologies could occur worldwide, buildings in higher and mid-latitudes that need heating in winter and especially that need cooling in summer as well, could benefit from the combination of insulation and as well the vapor barriers.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

As an example of the possible savings, take a poorly ininsulated house in say the northeastern USA, EPA Zone 5c to be precise. New houses in Zone 5c should have R15 or more insulation in their walls.

If say the proposed wall sealing/insulating concept is used, the R-value of a 2000-ft^2 home could increase from R10 or lower, up to R15 or higher, will save ~300 liters of fuel oil or more, with payback time of ~5 years, and ~750 kg CO2 avoided annually.

If just 5% of the existing homes and dwellings in the northern US were in  so improved in this way, that would be ~ 500K buildings (~1 billion ft^2), and ~400 kilotons of CO2 annually.

If 5% of such dwellings worldwide needed such insulation, and were so improved by this method (or a better one), the savings could be perhaps ten times higher, i.e., ~4 megatons of CO2 annually.





What are other key benefits?

What are the proposal’s costs?


Time line

Short term:

Technology development and adoption of robotics in building construction and related industries.

Increased incentives to insulate

Cost of GHG more directly paid by fossil energy users

Government grants and similar incentives to insulate existing buildings [QBot2015]

Development of robotic locomotion (wall-climbing), reduction in cost of complex miniaturized robotic devices.

Increased acceptance by and protections for the public and privacy, in the application of robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Medium term:

If this suggested solution is better than other methods, it will become commonplace, cost-reduced, and adopted with maximum ROI, e.g., minimum but crucial user interactions, maximized quality of the resulting insulation/vapor permeance/cost savings/longevity.

This is where the "rubber meets the road:" the method produces real significant savings in  heating/cooling energy, and CO2 reduction.


Long term:
Over the long term, the need for this solution will shrink, as more old buildings are either retrofitted, fixed, or replaced.


Related proposals



Foam spray example:


Wall-climbing microbots:

Robots for wall construction, sensing especially of studs & nails:

Gecko foot research:

Energy savings: