Press to change

Robotic furniture system Ori turns into an office, a bedroom or living room at the push of a button

WASHINGTON • You would not think that having your mother along with you and your husband on a weekend trip across the country, let alone in a tiny, 450 sq ft apartment, would be a lot of fun.

But Ms Heidi Grutter, who lives in San Diego, said it could not have worked out better when they stayed together in a Boston Airbnb. "Me, my husband Jimmy (Kan) and mum," she said. "It turned out as perfectly as it could."

They did not sleep in triple bunk beds pushed against the wall, but the couple slept in a double bed that rolled out of sight in the morning.

"We said, 'Alexa, ask Ori to close the bed' and the bed moved into the wall unit," said Ms Grutter, or in Ori-speak, into living room mode. Then the living room got bigger.

Ori is the revolutionary new concept in small space living - a robotic furniture system that morphs into a bedroom, office/dressing room or living room at the touch of a keypad or an app voice command. The system enables people to use one room in several ways by moving furniture.

Ori, the company, rents this apartment through Airbnb as a pilot to gather feedback about the system from users."Urbanisation is unstoppable. Cities are growing by leaps and bounds, so we better come up with new solutions to make them smarter because that's where people work and want to live," said Mr Hasier Larrea, chief executive of Ori. "We have to rethink how we fit more people in and how we organise the spaces they live and work in."

Today's younger generations want to live downtown, but that comes with a financial challenge. "This is where we come in. We want to change the paradigm to living large in a small footprint. People think square footage and functionality are linearly related, but that's the old paradigm."

Ori, a new concept in small space living, can morph into a working space or sleeping area (above) using a keypad or an app voice command.
Ori, a new concept in small space living, can morph into a working space or sleeping area (above) using a keypad or an app voice command. PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

Mr Larrea, 29, was a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student from San Sebastian, in Basque Country, Spain, from 2011 to 2015, studying mechanical engineering and design. While there, he led a student research project with Professor Kent Larson in the MIT Media Lab, a creative hub of engineers, architects, magicians, doctors and artists whose synergy inspires them to dream up new ideas about hot topics in today's society.

Robotic furniture was his team's idea. "In 2015, my team of four and I decided we'd done enough research and it was time to spin out our idea and bring it into the market," he said.

He looked for developers with a willingness to take a risk. More than 10 across the country and one in Canada signed on.

Next year, the company will install 500 to 1,000 units across the United States and Canada. People will be able to rent or buy apartments with the Ori system. The company is not yet selling directly to consumers.

When you walk into an Ori studio, you see a fully outfitted kitchen on one wall, table and chairs, couch and an elegant wood credenza with shelves, drawers and TV screen.

To get the bedroom, press a button on the touch pad adhered to the credenza. Walls start moving and a bed will glide out of one side of the credenza. You are now in bedroom mode. The living room, on the other side of the credenza, has become smaller, although it is still comfortable for a couch-sleeping guest.

Valor Development in Washington was one of the first to install Ori in an apartment. It is in the Vintage, an 85-unit rental building in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

"Ori was of real interest to us as a way of making a tight square footage more appealing and marketable. This is important when building in dense cities where the cost of land is steep," said Mr Felipe Serpa, development manager for Valor.

Mr Larrea said: "We're developing a deeper, wider strategy for the future of urban spaces. With the same robotic skeleton and muscle, we can design furniture skins for many demographics at many price points. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Ori will surely go global."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2017, with the headline 'Press to change'. Print Edition | Subscribe