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New E-ROBOT Prize Encourages Robotic Innovation To Drive Energy Efficiency in Envelope Retrofit Solutions

Submissions for the $5 Million American-Made Buildings Prize Are Being Accepted Through May 12

Feb. 16, 2021

The future of buildings is affordable, comfortable, and energy efficient. However, the current reality is that buildings consume 39% of all U.S. energy and 74% of all U.S. electricity at an annual cost of more than $400 billion. In fact, U.S. buildings account for 35% of the country's CO2 emissions—more than any other sector.

Due to the invasive and costly nature of current modernizing techniques, only about 2% of homes and buildings undergo deep energy efficiency retrofits each year.

So, how do we make building retrofits easier, faster, safer, and more accessible?

That is the goal of the new American-Made Buildings Prize. As part of the American-Made Challenges prize family, the Envelope Retrofit Opportunities for Building Optimization Technologies (E-ROBOT) Prize is looking for robotic innovations that catalyze the development of minimally invasive, low-cost, and holistic solutions.

The E-ROBOT Prize is designed to inspire technological innovation, create new opportunities for the buildings and construction workforce, and reduce building retrofit costs.

The E-ROBOT Prize is focused on developing advanced robotics for building envelope retrofits in alignment with the Advanced Building Construction (ABC) Initiative. By transforming current energy-efficient upgrade methods—which are often disruptive to homeowners or building occupants and pose potential health and safety hazards to construction workers—there is an opportunity to increase retrofit rates and save billions of dollars per year in energy bills.

Why Robotics?

Consider the advancements in minimally invasive surgical techniques that reduce pain, scarring, recovery time, and other risks to patients. That is the type of advancement robotics can bring to the buildings sector. To tap into the potential for substantial energy savings from envelope retrofits while improving durability and reducing occupant disturbance, home and building owners need affordable and simple alternatives for improving energy performance.

E-ROBOT Prize Phase 1

  • Submission Open: November 16, 2020
  • Teaming Event: March 3, 2021
  • Submission Close: May 12, 2021, 5 p.m. ET
  • Winner Notification: July 2021 (Anticipated)

For example, the on-site labor and meticulous detail required to complete an envelope retrofit project can significantly affect the overall cost. Robots can complement and support the existing workforce by creating new employment and business opportunities, while also helping to ensure quality and consistency when installing energy efficiency measures. Advancements in robotics will also allow workers to reach places or perform activities that were previously difficult to access or were unsafe. More specifically, robots can safely enter small spaces and cavities, such as ductwork, to perform air-sealing or other efficiency activities.

Competition Structure

The E-ROBOT Prize consists of two phases that will fast-track efforts to identify, develop, and validate solutions, offering competitors up to $4 million in cash prizes and an additional $1 million in Recognition Awards for Connectors in the American-Made Network who help recruit participants and mentor competitors. Connectors can be associated with national laboratories, accelerators, incubators, universities, industry organizations, or other entities who help competitors navigate the innovation process. Entities interested in participating as a Connector can visit the American-Made Challenges site to sign up and apply.

The competition is currently open to submissions for Phase 1 of the E-ROBOT Prize. In this phase, teams will present an innovative idea that solves a known industry problem for building envelope retrofits. This phase focuses on proving that the solution solves a critical building envelope need, developing a concept and design, and forming a team capable of achieving success. Up to 10 Phase 1 winners will win $200,000 in cash prizes and will then be eligible to compete in Phase 2, where they will build and validate.

Those interested in competing are invited join the E-ROBOT Prize Teaming Event on March 3, which will offer an opportunity to learn more about the current state of play in the industry and meet other innovators and potential collaborators who can help design a holistic, turnkey solution that addresses an industry problem for building envelope retrofits. Visit the E-ROBOT Prize website for information on other upcoming events.

Researchers, small businesses, students, and nonprofit organizations based in the United States are encouraged to apply. Building technology incubators and investors, industry leaders, labor unions, regional energy efficiency offices, academia, and think tanks are encouraged to provide technical and market insights, marketing expertise, product validation, and other support.

The American-Made Buildings Prize is administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office.