Robotic furniture refers to automated, adaptable furniture that enables people to maximise the use of their living spaces. In the past, transformable furniture required manual operation and this type of furniture is still prevalent and popular.
However, if the transformation is time consuming or requires physical exertion, then the piece of furniture is frequently left in its current state. Digitally operable furniture offers a quick and easy way to transform and is an evolution of this trend.
Mass urbanisation is occurring around the world and cities are becoming increasingly populated. “By 2050, around 68% of world populations will be living in cities. The reality [is], space is already a premium, so it needs to be much more versatile than it is.” says Dr Christian Tietz, discipline director of industrial design at the University of New South Wales Built Environment. 90% of global urbanisation until the year 2050 is projected to take place in Africa and Asia.
At the same time real estate in cities is prohibitively expensive, unaffordable for many. Residents are looking to smaller homes for affordability and the reduced environmental footprint. They are also looking to maximise the functionality of these spaces. The convention of each room serving a single purpose is being challenged by the introduction of automated furniture. A room could serve as a bedroom at night and a playroom during the day, for example.
Founded in 2015 by MIT engineers,New York-based Ori (which is short for origami) designs robotic, transformable, space-saving solutions. It has just launched a new product, the Pocket Office, a flexible home office setup that appears when it’s needed and makes room for living space when it’s not. Controlled by an app, a cabinet with a TV console transforms into a full-size desk. An earlier product was their Cloud Bed which lifts up to the ceiling to reveal a living space with a coffee table and sofa underneath.
Above: Ori cloud bed video
International furniture company Ikea has collaborated with Ori to introduce the robotic furniture system Rognan. It comprises a large storage unit that can slide across a room to divide a small room into two living spaces, and contains a bed, desk, and a couch. It was meant to be launched in Hong Kong and Japan this year but is likely to be delayed due to COVID-19.
Sankarshan Murthy, the founder of Bumblebee Spaces and a former Tesla and Apple engineer identifies the ceiling of a home as untapped space. He says, “Instead of square feet you start looking at real estate in volume. You are already paying for all this air and ceiling space you are not using. We unlock that for you.” The company makes a robotic AI butler furniture system that is a series of boxes affixed to the ceiling. In addition to these storage boxes, there is also a bed that descends and the user controls the system through a control pad or voice command.
Above: Bumblee system video
Working from home has made us rethink how we use our homes. A new way of inhabiting space is emerging. Rooms with static layouts are limiting in a world where living spaces are becoming smaller and the human population is growing. Spaces that transform and adapt to the changing needs of its occupants offer flexibility and will empower people to have a better quality of life with a smaller footprint – and perhaps price tag.
How would you like to utilise your space differently?
How can your organisation enable people to maximise the use of their spaces?
By Faeeza Khan
Image credit: Dwell.com