Smart furniture transforms spaces in tiny apartments into bedrooms, work spaces, or closets

January 31, 2018 by Rob Matheson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT Media Lab spinout Ori is developing 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. Credit: Ori

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 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.

Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
"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."

Architectural robotics

In 2011, Larrea joined the Media Lab's City Science research group, directed by Principal Research Scientist Kent Larson, which included his three co-founders: Chad Bean '14, Carlos Rubio '14, and Ivan Fernandez de Casadevante, who was a visiting researcher.

The group's primary focus was tackling challenges of mass urbanization, as cities are becoming increasingly popular living destinations. "Data tells us that, in places like China and India, 600 million people will move from towns to cities in the next 15 years," Larrea says. "Not only is the way we move through cities and feed people going to need to evolve, but so will the way people live and work in spaces."

A second emerging phenomenon was the Internet of Things, which saw an influx of smart gadgets, including household items and furniture, designed to connect to the Internet. "Those two megatrends were bound to converge," Larrea says.

The group started a project called CityHome, creating what it called "architectural robotics," which integrated robotics, architecture, computer science, and engineering to design smart, modular furniture. The group prototyped a moveable wall that could be controlled via gesture control—which looked similar to today's Ori system—and constructed a mock 200-square-foot studio apartment on the fifth floor of the Media Lab to test it out. Within the group, the unit was called "furniture with superpowers," Larrea says, as it made small spaces seem bigger.

After they had constructed their working prototype, in early 2015 the researchers wanted to scale up. Inspiration came from the Media Lab-LEGO MindStorms collaboration from the late 1990s, where researchers created kits that incorporated sensors and motors inside traditional LEGO bricks so kids could build robots and researchers could prototype.

Drawing from that concept, the group built standardized components that could be assembled into a larger piece of modular furniture—what Ori now calls the robotic "muscle," "skeleton," "brains," and the furniture "skins." Specifically, the muscle consists of the track, motors, and electronics that actuate the system. The skeleton is the frame and the wheels that give the unit structure and movement. The brain is the microcomputer that controls all the safety features and connects the device to the Internet. And the skin is the various pieces of furniture that can be integrated, using the same robotic architecture.

Today, units fit full- or queen-size mattresses and come in different colors. In the future, however, any type of furniture could be integrated, creating units of various shapes, sizes, uses, and price. "The robotics will keep evolving but stay standardized … so, by adding different skins, you can really create anything you can imagine," Larrea says.

Kickstarting Ori

Going through the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship's summer accelerator delta V (then called the Global Founders Skills Accelerator) in 2015 "kickstarted" the startup, Larrea says. One lesson that particularly stood out: the importance of conducting market research. "At MIT, sometimes we assume, because we have such a cool technology, marketing it will be easy. But we forget to talk to people," he says.

In the early days, the co-founders put tech development aside to speak with owners of studios, offices, and hotels, as well as tenants. In doing so, they learned studio renters in particular had three major complaints: Couples wanted separate living areas, and everyone wanted walk-in closets and space to host parties. The startup then focused on developing a furniture unit that addressed those issues.

After earning one of its first investors in the Media Lab's E14 Fund in fall 2015, the startup installed an early version of its system in several Boston apartments for renters to test and provide feedback. Soon after, the system hit apartments in 10 major cities across the U.S. and Canada, including San Francisco, Vancouver, Chicago, Miami, and New York. Over the past two years, the startup has used feedback from those pilots to refine the system into today's commercial model.

Ori will ship an initial production run of 500 units for apartments over the next few months. Soon, Larrea says, the startup also aims to penetrate adjacent markets, such as hotels, dormitories, and offices. "The idea is to prove this isn't a one-trick pony," Larrea says. "It's part of a more comprehensive strategy to unlock the potential of space."

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More information: www.orisystems.com/

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24 comments

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tblakely1357
5 / 5 (3) Jan 31, 2018
A trend of minimizing people's aspirations.
MR166
4 / 5 (4) Jan 31, 2018
Save the earth and live in your 100 sq ft apartment while the people directing your life cruise on their 50 million dollar yachts to one of their many 20,000 sq ft homes.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (4) Jan 31, 2018
@MR
are you a paid hack denier or are you one of the idiot volunteers they have spreading misinformation?
Save the earth and live in your 100 sq ft apartment while the people directing your life cruise on their 50 million dollar yachts to one of their many 20,000 sq ft homes.
this is called idiotic conspiracist ideation that completely ignores that you're the one who has been fooled into defending the idiots who are doing the worst damage - and that aint a matter of debate: http://www.drexel...nge.ashx

antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 31, 2018
Like the economy of it...but the last thing I want to have is not remember where I put all the furniture while bumbling for the light switch. (OK, in reality that would be voice operated, too, so not really a valid gripe)
MR166
1 / 5 (3) Jan 31, 2018
Right Capt.,,,,Al Gore is a figment of my imagination as is all of the Hollywood types telling me to use just one sheet of toilet paper.
carbon_unit
5 / 5 (3) Jan 31, 2018
@a_p Or this: "Honey, where are you?" [muffled] let me out!!!
MR166
1 / 5 (3) Jan 31, 2018
Yea, save toilet paper, meanwhile Europe is importing shiploads of LOGS from NA , not mill waste, to burn in their "renewable" power plants. Sorry man "THEY" are in control not you!!!
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 31, 2018
@a_p Or this: "Honey, where are you?" [muffled] let me out!!!

"Auto wash."
Fifth Element.
It's a new market gimmick for Ikea.
Just wait til you get it home and have to put it together...
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 01, 2018
@mr
,Al Gore is a figment of my imagination as is all of the Hollywood types telling me to use just one sheet of toilet paper.
1- al gore is an idiot, not a scientist

2- if you get your "science" from hollywood types rather than scientists then it's no wonder you're so stupid - that's as pathetic as stalking hollywood types

3- as I demonstrated: the only proven conspiracy about anything is big oil/business attempting to get idiots like you to defend their pocketbooks by deliberately sowing misinformation and then getting idiots like you to regurgitate it because you're too d*cking lazy (or stupid?) to actually do any fact checking

this is a trend with you: if it supports your delusional beliefs, you wholeheartedly repeat it

Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 01, 2018
Like the economy of it...but the last thing I want to have is not remember where I put all the furniture while bumbling for the light switch. (OK, in reality that would be voice operated, too, so not really a valid gripe)
@A_P
I really like the idea myself... we live in a small cabin

I wonder if it will have some kind of battery backup just in case of power outages?

.

"Auto wash."
Fifth Element.
@Whyde
LMFAO
It's a new market gimmick for Ikea.
Just wait til you get it home and have to put it together
scary

I just thought: what if Ikea made transformers?

[autobots, assemble... aww, bloody hell! we're still putting Optimus Prime together...]

LOL
MR166
not rated yet Feb 02, 2018
Capt. from what I gather you own the place you live in. Thus even if you home is small you have your own space which is enough for your body and soul. What is being pushed in this paper is for city renters. They want to have everyone live in the equivalent of a hotel room. I personally rebel at the thought of people being forced to live in cages like a chicken being trucked to market.
Captain Stumpy
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 02, 2018
@MR
from what I gather you own the place you live in. Thus even if you home is small you have your own space which is enough
yes, I own it, and no, I don't have "my own space". that is literally impossible when you are married and have pets (unless you count the crapper - lol)
They want to have everyone live in the equivalent of a hotel room
I don't see it that way
I see it as a way to maximize existing space to ensure comfort as well as efficient use of space

to demonstrate my point: my cabin is 448 square feet
if I had the above I could literally expand my living space while still having the private bedroom space that most couples like to have - plus it has the added benefit of consolidating the desk and closet spaces which take up much room in my house at the moment... all of this would benefit my house and improve quality of life with more privacy than I currently have

2Bcont'd
Captain Stumpy
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 02, 2018
@mr cont'd
They want to have everyone live in the equivalent of a hotel room
so what I am seeing above is that they've taken a typically small space and made it potentially comfortable for people

This is something that can turn a very small efficiency into a relatively comfy living space that (depending on the person) doesn't feel like it's closing in on you while offering space & privacy benefits typically not found in an efficiency

it looks like a great idea to me
I personally rebel at the thought of people being forced to live in cages like a chicken being trucked to market
this isn't about being forced to live in anything
- it's about transforming existing space into a more comfortable living space

you're feeling threatened by this and it's strange

is this tied to your unfounded fears of a singular world gov't and conspiracy?
MR166
not rated yet Feb 02, 2018
Capt. There is a huge push for micro - housing as a way to lower environmental impact and further crowd the cities. I personally don't think that is good for the mental health of the people involved. If one chooses to live in a small home on a piece of land that is great because there is still freedom of choice and no overcrowding. When done to increase population density in a certain area the crowding and confinement is unhealthy IMHO.
MR166
not rated yet Feb 02, 2018
Capt you might live in a small home but I am willing to bet that you also have a good size shed on your property. In order to have a real life people need to have tools and supplies. Almost all creative endeavors require some space to work and cannot be put back into a shoebox when the day is done.
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (2) Feb 02, 2018
@mr
There is a huge push for micro - housing as a way to lower environmental impact and further crowd the cities
sure: but it's a choice - not a forced issue
I personally don't think that is good for the mental health of the people involved
I feel the same way about cities - all those people crowded together makes a person irritable and paranoid

:-)

I tend to think people are easily adaptable and capable of adjusting to anything (see: moon landing, or any astronaut living quarters)

I can see both sides of the issue because I lived overseas in Europe and Asia where living quarters tended to be considerably smaller than in the US (also: personal space, yards, etc)

I have small quarters because I'm frugal and don't need much space, plus I spend a lot of time out of doors when I can. Most of my lofted cabin is filled with books (not a joke; no exaggeration)

2Bcont'd
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (3) Feb 02, 2018
@mr cont'd
When done to increase population density in a certain area the crowding and confinement is unhealthy IMHO
IMHO also, but that would mean destroying all the cities... so it's a matter of perspective, isn't it?
Capt you might live in a small home but I am willing to bet that you also have a good size shed on your property
nope
no shed at all - I have one outbuilding that is the well and pump house
that's it
In order to have a real life people need to have tools and supplies
I have my good knives, my rifles and pistols, a f*cking awesome recurve bow and all my tools are kept in the house under my bed

What most people *think* they need, they really don't - it's just either a matter of "keeping up with the jones's" or it's more sh*t to make life "easier*, until something breaks

and yeah, I still use an axe, splitting maul and bow-saw

People tend to *live inside* moreso now than in the past, which is the huge difference
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (3) Feb 02, 2018
been thinking...
Almost all creative endeavors require some space to work and cannot be put back into a shoebox when the day is done
this is kinda true

My thing is: you don't need as much space as you think you do (and I have collapsable equipment that really does go under my bed when I'm done)

I ask myself questions like:
what is the space for?
what is the need?
is it required, or just convenient?
purchase or building costs?
heating/cooling costs?
other overhead costs?
I am practical and don't need a lot... hell, I lived out of a footlocker in a tent for years in the military

the desire others have for more indoor space - that is entirely their own choice. The above furniture can really help smaller spaces seem larger, though, much like my lofts make my cabin quite large (and cooler in the summer)

I think its great... and I wouldn't worry about some conspiracy to force people to live in smaller spaces until the population at least triples (min - maybe)
:-D
MR166
not rated yet Feb 02, 2018
Well Capt. I have a tool for just about everything from auto repair to drywall. There is not much that I hire a contractor for. The last one I hired was to replace the well pump. Oh yea my wife just had open heart surgery, and we decided it was too big a job to do in my garage.
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (3) Feb 02, 2018
@mr
Well Capt. I have a tool for just about everything from auto repair to drywall
how often do you use them all?
do you rent them to locals? (no, not being facetious)
There is not much that I hire a contractor for
what's a contractor?
LOL

they tend to not even bother coming this far out in the woods

something about banjo's, squealing pigs, purty mouths and all that?
Oh yea my wife just had open heart surgery, and we decided it was too big a job to do in my garage
plumbing is plumbing... it's all the same, regardless of location
LOL

I hope she is feeling better - watch closely for infection!

MR166
3 / 5 (2) Feb 02, 2018
She feels fine thanks. I pretty much use them all at least once a year. Between plumbing, cars, firewood, leaf blowing and remodeling I keep occupied when I am not bothering climate people on the internet. OK I do not really try to bother people it just happens to work out that way.
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (2) Feb 02, 2018
@mr
She feels fine thanks
glad to hear - the risk for infection is higher for women, so I thought I would let yall know
Between plumbing, cars, firewood, leaf blowing and remodeling I keep occupied when I am not bothering climate people on the internet. OK I do not really try to bother people it just happens to work out that way.
ROTFLMFAO

well, I can relate to the above except that my job actually requires me to "bother people"
LOL

you should hold on to some of those leaves - best thing I've ever found for masking a scent is hardwood leaves and wet wood fires
works better than any chemical or storebought anything I've ever seen used
(I always stalk)
moranity
not rated yet Feb 05, 2018
japanese houses have honed this kind of technology to an art, and no robots needed
nrauhauser
not rated yet Feb 15, 2018
The most interesting use case for this idea isn't a fancy city apartment, it's all those 12m shipping containers out there, which are already a popular target for low end housing construction. A 2.4m x 12.2m ( 8' x 40' in freedom units) space isn't much to work with, particularly on the narrow dimension, but I can see how sliding rails could change three small rooms into five.

Funny to see the juvenile trolling above; it's a mix of paid losers in low wage foreign countries, and organic free range losers in the developed world. Someone should do a peer reviewed study on the ecology of the system.

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