Posted in | Consumer Robotics

Smart Robotic Furniture Optimizes Space in Small Apartments

Imagine living in a cramped studio apartment in a large city — but being able to summon your bed or closet through a mobile app, call forth your desk using voice command, or have everything retract at the push of a button.

MIT Media Lab spinout Ori aims to make that type of robotic living a reality. The Boston-based startup is selling smart robotic furniture that transforms into a bedroom, working or storage area, or large closet — or slides back against the wall — to optimize space in small apartments.

Based on years of Media Lab work, Ori's system is an L-shaped unit installed on a track along a wall, so can slide back and forth. One side features a closet, a small fold-out desk, and several drawers and large cubbies. At the bottom is a pull-out bed. The other side of the unit includes a horizontal surface that can open out to form a table. The vertical surface above that features a large nook where a television can be placed, and additional drawers and cubbies. The third side, opposite the wall, contains still more shelving, and pegs to hang coats and other items.

Users control the unit through a control hub plugged into a wall, or through Ori's mobile app or a smart home system, such as Amazon's Echo.

Essentially, a small studio can at any time become a bedroom, lounge, walk-in closet, or living and working area, says Ori founder and CEO Hasier Larrea SM '15. "We use robotics to … make small spaces act like they were two or three times bigger," he says. "Around 200 square feet seems too small [total area] to live in, but a 200-square-foot bedroom or living room doesn't seem so small." Larrea was named to Forbes' 2017 30 Under 30 list for his work with Ori.

The first commercial line of the systems, which goes for about $10,000, is now being sold to real estate developers in Boston and other major cities across the U.S. and Canada, for newly built or available apartments. In Boston, partners include Skanska, which has apartments in the Seaport; Samuels and Associates, with buildings around Harvard Square; and Hines for its Marina Bay units. Someday, Larrea says, the system could be bought directly by consumers.

Once the system catches on and the technology evolves, Larrea imagines future apartments could be furnished entirely with robotic furniture from Ori and other companies.

"These technologies can evolve for kitchens, bathrooms, and general partition walls. At some point, a two-bedroom apartment could turn into a large studio, transform into three rooms for your startup, or go into 'party mode,' where it all opens up again," Larrea says. "Spaces will adapt to us, instead of us adapting to spaces, which is what we've been doing for so many years."


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