Get in Bed With Skynet (The New York Times)
Robot furniture is happening. This is the single greatest thing to happen to humanity ever, the robots told us to say.
As Americans cram into ever-tighter urban living arrangements, a question has emerged: Isn’t there some better way to furnish a tiny apartment?
Yes. The answer, of course, is robots.
Inside a model studio apartment at the Eugene, an 844-unit building on Manhattan’s West Side, sits a blocky, Swiss Army-knife-like unit that looks a little like two-sided armoire with lots of compartments. It’s called Ori. Ori runs on a track and can be activated by voice command (“Alexa, have Ori make my bed!”) or by the touch of a square black button or a smartphone app. The furniture glides in and out of the living space. In a marketing video, jaunty indie pop plays in the background as a desk retracts into the Ori to create enough space for a woman to unfurl a yoga mat. Later, a man lies on a couch as a table with a glass of white wine moves to his meet his hand.
“Our units are getting smaller and smaller,” said Maria Masi, the senior vice president of development for Brookfield Properties, the New York-based developer that owns the Eugene. Robotic furniture, she said, could help renters stay in their studios for longer. It could also, for instance, justify charging higher rents for no-bedroom units that live more like one-bedrooms. “You use your space differently throughout the day,” she said. “You effectively don’t need a separate bedroom anymore.”
Earlier this summer, he gave me a tour of his engineering lab in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood. Drawing on a white board with a purple marker, he showed me what he hopes the future of home floor plans will look like, with a two-sided map of both the floor and the ceiling. In his version, most of the furniture was laid out on the ceiling side. “The floor is now free,” he said. (Bumblebee’s promotional videos also highlight the clear-floor-space potential for home yoga.)
He and his engineers had set up a model room, a cube-like space with green screen walls. A queen-size Tuft & Needle mattress was suspended from the ceiling by four white seatbelt-like hoists. Mr. Murthy pulled out an iPad and showed me how to move it up and down. The bed moved fairly slowly, lights blinking around it as it rose and dropped. The white storage boxes dropped down more rapidly. The whole thing had the feel of a futuristic garage, with tracks, sleek white hoists and sensors that would pause the system if anyone ran underneath.
Mr. Murthy, a fan of minimalism and the KonMari anti-clutter movement, said that Bumblebee could inventory everything placed into its blonde wood storage cubes and create a log so that the system would, over time, learn your patterns. Haven’t pulled your tennis racket down from the ceiling in a year or two? Maybe it’s time to let it go, or so suggests your robot butler. “You’re land-locking your house with all these objects,” said Mr. Murthy. “This changes the way you think about what you own.”