MassRobotics recently hosted a webinar on the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s prize challenge for using robot and other technology to help upgrade old homes and business to be more energy efficient. This is part of the American-Made Challenges program, which was developed and is led by the DOE and administered by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It was developed to help energize American ingenuity and empower innovators to create groundbreaking energy solutions and turn ideas into reality in a matter of months instead years. The American Made challenges program achieves this goal by connecting teams with knowledge, resources, and access to experts in their field to rapidly transform ideas into prototypes and beyond. In addition, the program connects participants with DOE national labs, incubators, accelerators, and other facilities through the American-Made Network to further support their innovations.

The webinar focused on the Enveloped Retrofit Opportunities for Building Optimization Technologies or E-ROBOT challenge. It was interesting to learn about the size of the problem in the use and more details about the prize challenge.

The American-Made Buildings E-ROBOT Prize is a $5M U.S. Department of Energy prize competition with a goal to create new opportunities for the buildings and construction workforce by incentivizing the development of advanced robotics capabilities and controls for building envelope retrofits. Advanced robotics is just one of many innovative Advanced Building Construction (ABC) technologies and methods that can improve the affordability and efficiency of new buildings and retrofits without sacrificing occupant comfort and productivity.

The E-ROBOT Prize is made up of two phases that will fast-track efforts to identify, develop, and validate disruptive solutions to meet building industry needs. Each phase will include a contest period when participants will work to rapidly advance their solutions. DOE invites anyone, individually or as a team, to compete to transform a conceptual solution into product reality.

These contests are supported by the American Made Network – which engages America’s energy incubators, investors, universities, 17 national laboratories, and others to help participants achieve their goals.

The competition is made up of two phases that will fast-track efforts to identify, develop, and validate disruptive solutions to meet building industry needs.  They are looking for innovations in robotics to help make energy-efficient building retrofits more affordable and accessible.

Phase 1Concept and Design: In this phase teams are expected to present an innovative idea that solves a known industry problem for building envelope retrofits. Experts from both the robotics and buildings industries should inform the concept and design. This phase is focused on proving that the solution solves a critical building envelope need, developing a concept and design, and forming a team that can achieve success. Applicants may focus on one component or multiple components of the following (1) sensing and inspection, (2) mapping and (3) retrofit tools. Applicants will need to describe their plans for integrating their products into comprehensive service offerings, through partnering or other commercialization plans.  A partnering event will take place during Phase 1 to help competitors make connections with other teams and network partners. Up to 10 Phase 1 winners will win $200,000 in cash prizes and will then be eligible to compete in Phase 2. A panel of expert reviewers from industry, national labs, and government will evaluate submissions. The final decision will be based on the input from the reviewers but determined by the Building Technologies Office.

Phase 2Build and Validate: In Phase 2, winning competitors from Phase 1 will take their individual components add the other required functionality to create a holistic, and “turnkey,” integrated product offering. Cooperation between competitors is encouraged.  Solutions must be low cost, minimally invasive and encompass all areas – including sensing and inspection, retrofit, and mapping with one tool or a compatible suite of tools for addressing building envelope retrofit challenges. Applicants are required to validate technical viability and demonstrate a path towards commercial viability. Conducting field validation of the working solution with a commercial partner (e.g., manufacturer, service provider, etc.) is highly encouraged. Up to 4 Phase 2 winners will win $500,000 in cash prizes.

 On the webinar were Sven Mumme, a technology manager in the Building Technologies Office (BTO) at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Mary Hubbard, the technology-to-market manager within the Building Technologies Office’s (BTO’s) Emerging Technologies Program.

We learned that the Phase 1 contest submission deadline is 5PM ET on May 12 and they will not be accepting late submissions. Mary strongly encouraged individuals and teams to submit applications early and to contact their team immediately at for assistance if they are having trouble.

They anticipate announcing winners in July of 2021. (Please note that this date is subject to change.)    We think this is an interesting opportunity to develop new robotics technology to help solve difficult but rewarding problems in the construction industry.  We were happy to share the information with our community.  The recording from the session can be viewed here.