Ori is a new line of furniture that its founder, Hasari Larrea, describes as robotic, intelligent, and dynamic. That’s not how you usually talk about tables and shelves. But then again, most tables and shelves don’t come from the MIT Media Lab.

For four years, Larrea lead the Architectural Robotics research area at the MIT Media Lab, thinking in part about how to apply robotics to the rising trend of micro-living. As cities become more dense and expensive, and personal space becomes more rare, Larrea started to wonder if spaces like homes and offices could be more efficient and intelligent.

The answer was a furniture system called Ori, with tech from Larrea’s group and furniture design by Yves Béhar. The modular and transformable system becomes widely available in early 2017. The first rollout is essentially a big wall of shelves with a pop-out desk, a closet, and a trundle-style bed tucked underneath. Sensor-rigged actuators are hard-wired to a control panel that attaches to the Ori wall, like a thermostat or an app. With the push of a button—or, with future versions of the software, at the sound of a voice or wave of a hand—pieces of Ori furniture will slide up, down, or over, reconfiguring spaces in mere moments. The harder you press the arrow button on the interface, the faster the wall will move—an interaction Larrea says is like moving a heavy wall with one finger. A bed can disappear, to make room for a work desk. A wall can come down, to create private spaces in an otherwise open studio apartment. A 350-square-foot apartment will, ideally, function more like a 600-square-foot one. Furniture like this exists, but the idea for Ori, Larrea says, is to make these transformations feel effortless.

Looking ahead, flexible furniture systems like Ori might make people much more likely to buy into micro-apartments. They seem like a good idea—surely you’ve heard that by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities? But people won’t easily let go of traditional ideas of what homes look like. “If you lease somebody a micro-unit and they go out and buy one thing that isn’t sized properly for this domicile, the whole place feels smaller than it is, and it doesn’t work,” says Stockton Williams, an executive director at the Urban Land Institute. Williams points to Carmel Place, New York’s first official micro-apartment complex, as an example. Most of the units came fully furnished with expandable, or pop-out, interiors—a feature that Williams describes as educational for new inhabitants.

Ori takes that process a step further by streamlining and automating the whole process. That’s an important feature for Larrea, who says designs like Murphy beds aren’t realistic, because they come with a “cognitive load”—as in, you have to make your Murphy bed to use it in the first place. You should probably make your bed anyway (that’s how you accomplish the first task of the day!) but it’s hard to argue with Larrea’s logic: the simpler the system, the happier the user.


Robo-Furniture From MIT Makes The Most of Tiny Apartments