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Change your home with the click of a button

By: Tatum Dooley

How robotic furniture will change our lives.

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Remember “The Jetsons”? If you look back at that lovably corny space age cartoon, you may realize the family’s home was surprisingly prescient. Their futuristic apartment had robotic arms that brush your teeth, a bed that folds up and submerges into the floor, and a vacuum that slithers around on its own accord.

We’re now living in a future that increasingly mirrors the one that the Jetsons predicted. Robotic vacuums are commonplace. Companies like Bumblebee Spaces produce beds that descend from the ceiling—a sophisticated upgrade to an old-school Murphy bed. A toothbrush can collect data on its owner’s brushing habits. Wi-fi enabled cameras allow you to glance at the inside of your fridge from your smartphone before leaving work so you can see what you need. Tech-fortified furniture frees up time and space to create more efficient homes.

“You can take an industrial robot and bring it into the home to do your laundry and wash dishes,” explains architect Joseph Sarafian, co-creator (along with Ron Culver) of Form Found Design, a firm focused on the intersection of nature and robotics. Sarafian expects most homes in the future will have a lot more mechanics: “These robots are flexible enough to have multiple applications.”

As population density increases, apartment sizes are steadily decreasing. Robotic furniture presents a solution that frees up valuable square footage at the touch of a button, or on verbal command. In robotic interior design, cumbersome furniture can disappear into the wall.

“As architects, we’re emphasizing urbanism and density in terms of sustainability, we don’t want to have sprawl that’s wasteful,” says Sarafian about the move towards living in small spaces. “In order to do that, we have to design more efficiently with the spaces we have and the best way to do that is through automation of household spaces.”

One robotic company, Ori Living, created a closet that expands and contracts on command. At the press of a button or in response to a virtual assistant, the gears start moving and in a matter of seconds the wall opens up to double the closet space.

The system is not unlike the moveable shelves found in archives or at libraries, yet Ori’s movable closet is one of the first domestic executions of merging robotic components with furniture. The MIT-educated team that designed the closet made sure the storage was unobtrusive and aesthetically pleasing. Users can assemble and install the shelves themselves.

Should you be worried that your robot bed or closet will pin you against the wall?  “There are safety protocols in effect, such as motion detection technology using artificial intelligence that makes robotics more user friendly and safer to use in a home setting,” Sarafian explains. For example, when Ori furniture detects someone standing between the wall and the movable component, it automatically stops.

A main tenet of robotic furniture is its ability to be unobtrusive: to disappear when not in use and re-appear when needed. Products from Ori Furniture and BumbleeBee Spaces work as preventive measures against clutter, and help you clean up in many ways.

One of the products from BumbleBee Spaces is an elevated crate that, like the bed, descends from the ceiling when needed. A camera in the storage unit takes inventory of what’s being stored within, sending the data to a smartphone or tablet. If you haven’t used something within a year, it will gently suggest you get rid of it. Think of it as an updated version of the Jetsons’s maid.

The advent of intelligent and robotic furniture is going to change the role that interior decor plays in our lives. No longer are shelves and chairs inanimate objects that just occasionally get dusted or reupholstered every few years. They will become responsive and reactive parts of the home, improving our lives and making them more productive.

“[Automation] is going to be the house of the future,” says Sarafain. “The technology is already available, it’s just a matter of time.”

For more information, see:

Form Found Design

MIT’s Media Lab Furniture Project

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About the author(s): 

Tatum Dooley is a Toronto-based writer who has covered technology, fashion and design for Jezebel, Lenny Letter and The Globe & Mail.

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