Could Robotic Furniture Help Solve The Housing Crisis?


Robotic furniture may help people turn small spaces into comfortable homes.

In a YouTube video published by the MIT Alumni Association in December of 2021, Ori CEO Hasier Larrea told interviewers that real estate has two big challenges today.

“One of them is real estate sustainability and the other one is affordability,” Larrea said. “Those two challenges are really connected to one metric, square footage.”

Ori was formed in 2015 by Larrea and a team of MIT academics who set out to build interiors that optimize the potential of usable space, allowing for a more extensive range of activities and settings inside dwellings, all within the same footprint.

Larrea said they believe that robotic furniture and architecture have the power of changing people’s perception of a space.

“People don’t need as much space as they think they need,” Larrea said in the interview.

A press release issued in October of 2021 announced that Ori was premiering direct-to-customer products in the New York metro area.

“In about 30 seconds, the Cloud Bed, Sofa Edition transforms between a bedroom and a living room; while the Cloud Bed, Table Edition transforms between a bedroom, a dining area, home office, or game room — all on demand, at the touch of a button or with voice command,” the press release said.

Larrea said in a statement at the time that residents in more than 50 apartment buildings located across the country are living with Ori products. They have testimonials published on their website.

Ori’s robotic furniture has proven popular in locations other than large cities such as New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, in part because flats in fashionable metropolitan districts have become comparatively pricey in an increasing number of U.S. cities.

In 2019, IKEA teamed up with Ori. Seana Strawn, product developer for new innovations at IKEA of Sweden, said at the time people have to balance living space with storage space and they think there is a better way.

“We have been working with developing small space living solutions for a long time, and we know that some of the biggest challenges in peoples’ homes are storage and finding the place to do all the activities that you’d want to do in your home. This is especially the case in big cities where people have to make compromises in the functions of their homes. We wanted to change that,” Strawn said in a statement.

Supporters argue that the technology might help alleviate the mounting housing shortage.

If people could comfortably live in smaller spaces, houses and apartments would not have to be as spacious, they claim.

That would remove the pressure on builders to obtain large quantities of materials at a time. Inflation has hit builders.

The executive director of the New Hampshire Home Builders Association recently said the biggest problem they are currently facing is unstable prices due to inflation.

In an interview with The Mortgage Note, Matt Mayberry explained that contractors are trying to stay within their budgets on projects but it is difficult because prices are volatile due to inflation and supply chain issues.

It’s also difficult to bid on upcoming work.

“How do we estimate jobs correctly? What are the metrics we use to do this?” Mayberry said.

Isn’t robotic furniture reminiscent of the Murphy bed concept?

Yes. The concept is similar. By having a Murphy bed that can be pulled up, a studio apartment often becomes a comfortable office during the day and a place to host a guest in the evening.

Murphy beds have been around for more than 100 years and were invented by William Lawrence Murphy.

Murphy designed the upward-folding bed to allow his small apartment’s primary living space to function as both a bedroom and a living room.

These newer systems include beds that, on voice command, float into the ceiling to reveal couches, and artificial-intelligence-enabled cameras to track where belongings are stored.

The Ori Studio Suite has a sleeping room and a living room and simulates multiple rooms, according to an introduction for a YouTube video featuring the benefits of the technology.

What does the market look like in this space?

Companies such as Bumblebee, Enorme Studio, and Beyome are also working on “architectural robotics,” with entire walls that move built-in beds and tables. 

For the time being, many of these technologies are pricey. Some installations cost $40,000 for a single room.

There are home systems that can be purchased for as little as $5,000 and are currently installed in apartments with monthly rates of as little as $1,000 in Durham, North Carolina, and Buffalo, New York. 

Technology Columnist Christopher Mims at the Wall Street Journal reported in August that ex-Apple and Tesla engineers in San Francisco and a design and architecture firm in Spain are in the market of devising robotic furniture, so there is interest in this market.

Editor Kimberley Haas contributed to this report.

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Story idea? Email Editor Kimberley Haas: [email protected]