Tomorrow’s Furniture Will Be Robotic

  • Several technological innovations are about to unleash a revolution in how tomorrow’s household tools, buildings and furniture will look, feel, and be produced. Think of 3D printing, a technique already capable of constructing buildings. Or robot modules, electronic insects that could possibly be the construction workers of the future, able to organize themselves autonomously. So-called ‘Roombots’, claimed to be the next big thing when it comes to the production of furniture, are at least as special.

    Scientists have been working on a series of robots that have learned to reconfigure themselves in whatever furniture you like. Want to sit? Let them know and the swarm transforms into a chair. Having lunch? There’s your table, entirely consisting of robots.

    Over the last five years, the biorobotics laboratory of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) has been working on multiple simple robotic modules that can attach and detach. Connectors between units allow the creation of arbitrary and changing structures depending on the task to be solved. The Swiss scientists have developed a group of robots for the Rolex Learning Center that is able to autonomously connect to each other to form different types of furniture such as stools, chairs, sofas and tables, depending on user requirements.

    “This furniture will change shape over time (e.g. a stool becoming a chair, a set of chairs becoming a sofa) as well as move using actuated joints to different locations depending on the users needs. When not needed, the group of modules can create a static structure such as a wall or a box.”

    Watch the video above for a simulation of some Roombots transforming first into a side table, then into a quadruped-like walking side table. In the future the Roombots are able to be controlled using PDA-based interfaces, tactile interactions with the modules, as well as a web interface. That such an innovation could definitely change our relation with furniture is clear, but the people behind the Roombots claim that this revolution could lead to a true ‘Emancipation of Furniture’. What do you think?