Ikea is quietly debuting robotic furniture


Five years ago, MIT debuted a piece of furniture straight out of The Jetsons. It was a glowing robotic box that could transform a 200-square-foot apartment into a 600-square-foot apartment, expanding or contracting at the push of a button to reveal a bed, bathroom, and storage. Eventually the project, then known as Cityhome, became a company called Ori. Today, the startup works directly with developers to integrate its robotic units into apartment buildings, and will even mail you a robotic walk-in closet.

But for the past two years, Ori has been working on something new: the release of a robotic furniture line developed alongside Ikea-and at Ikea prices. The new collaboration is dubbed “Rognan,” and it will launch in Japan and Hong Kong in 2020. Ikea is licensing the technology from Ori as part of an ongoing partnership.

Rognan is essentially an L-shaped storage unit that moves with motors and a switch. It functions as a room divider that you can slide left or right to shape your apartment’s space to its function. On one side, the Rognan features a full-sized bed that can roll in and out from the unit to build a bedroom when you want to sleep. On the other side, there’s a small couch for entertaining in your living room. On both sides, Ikea has integrated support for its Platsa modular storage system-which allows buyers to completely customize the unit with shelving and drawers.

Hasier Larrea, the MIT researcher who founded Ori, tells us that while it may look similar at first glance, the Rognan is significantly different from earlier Ori units as a result of Ikea’s in-home research it conducted abroad abroad. In the U.S., Ori units have been packaged as entertainment centers for small home theaters. But for the large Asian markets where Rognan will first launch, the promise of giant TVs was less appealing than offering more practical storage and the additional seating of a built-in couch. The design teams also significantly lowered the height of the unit, as apartments in Japan and Hong Kong tend to have lower ceilings than the U.S.

Pricing is yet to be announced, and will likely vary by level of customization. Ori’s own Pocket Closet starts at $2,650, but it sounds like Ikea’s offerings may be cheaper; Larrea promised the Rognan will be offered at “an Ikea price point.”

As dwellings continue to shrink in big cities across the globe, companies like Airbnb are considering how shape-shifting homes can help us do more with less. It’s easy to imagine Rognan developing into something much more complicated-eventually, a series of designs could integrate fixtures for a bathroom or kitchen, too, given that Ikea sells just about every finish and appliance you can find in a home already.

Ori has always been something of an impossibly ambitious idea, with a promised scope far beyond the reach of one startup. But if anyone can sell the public on robotic furniture, it’s the largest furniture company in the world.