It’s every home renovation crew’s nightmare―crawling on one’s belly to squirt spray foam in the nooks and crannies of a claustrophobia-inducing attic.
What if it were possible to have a robot do the dirty work for them, lowering homeowners’ heating bills while saving time, money, and energy? Northeastern just won $200,000 from the U.S. Energy Department to build a prototype robot that could squeeze into tight spaces to retrofit the chilly attics in thousands of old homes.
“Robots can safely enter small spaces and cavities, such as ductwork, to perform air-sealing or other efficiency activities,” the department says in launching the E-ROBOT prize, a $5 million challenge to demonstrate the promise of advanced robotics for energy-efficiency tasks.
“There aren’t enough technologies out in the field for this kind of work,” says Taskin Padir, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of Northeastern’s Institute for Experiential Robotics, where the focus is on robots that complement humans.
He says the three-story homes commonly known as “triple deckers” in Massachusetts are a prime example of generations-old residential buildings where environmental retrofit projects are made all the more difficult because of joists and rafters in narrow spaces. “Even a simple task like filling an air leak in the attic becomes a challenge,” Padir adds.