ALMHULT (Sweden) • Ikea is not sitting idly by, even as its mega stores continue to pull in the crowds who snap up its products.
The Swedish furniture giant has teamed up with American start-up company Ori to roll out a robotic piece of furniture aimed at helping people make more efficient use of tiny living spaces.
On Tuesday, the world's biggest furniture brand unveiled a moving room divider, which, depending on needs throughout the day, doubles as a bed, a walk-in closet or a sofa, or frees up a separate work space.
A commercial launch is set for next year, in densely populated Hong Kong and Japan to begin with, the company said.
"With robotics, you transform space, especially for those who live in extremely small spaces. It's a need that they have. Why not use the technology that's out there?" said Mr Seana Strawn, product developer for innovations at the furniture group's range development leg Ikea of Sweden.
He added that Ikea had been working with Ori for two years on the product, which is operated through a touchpad.
The piece is built on a robotic platform developed by Ori, which already sells shape-shifting furniture in the United States under its own brand and is eyeing a broader customer base through Ikea's budget-price strategy and global footprint.
Ori chief executive Hasier Larrea said: "This is technology, robotics and design coming together to solve a problem that needs to be solved.
"As living spaces become smaller and smaller, we can't keep using all the same furniture we've been using for many years.
"We need to think of a new generation of furniture. You can almost call it furniture with superpowers."
Ikea also does not want be caught napping in the area of safety.
It has introduced a line of tip-resistant dressers to address a design issue that has killed eight children and injured dozens of others in the past two decades.
The Glesvar collection comes with a range of "stability features" aimed at getting customers to secure the furniture to their walls.
Some dressers have drawers that will not open unless they are properly anchored, while others come with just two front legs, meaning they cannot stand upright unless they are attached to a wall.
"Tip-over risk has been an industry problem for a long time and we believe the safest thing to do is to attach furniture to the wall," said Mr Vladimir Brajkovic, Ikea's head of product engineering.
"It is practically impossible to use these products unless they are installed correctly."
The company, he noted, has tried to make it as easy as possible to anchor its dressers to the wall.
"If you follow the instructions and use the parts that we provide, the room for error is minimal, if not zero," Mr Brajkovic said.
REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST