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Cutting Edge | Magazine

This robotic supergadget aims to make tiny apartment spaces livable

Forget Murphy beds and room-dividing screens. The Ori System morphs from bedroom to home office to entertainment center.

At a simple command, the Ori system bed will slide itself into the cabinet, and the whole apparatus can move across the apartment.
At a simple command, the Ori system bed will slide itself into the cabinet, and the whole apparatus can move across the apartment.(Ori Systems)

As people continue flocking to cities, those glimmering new towers rising in Boston and around the world feature smaller apartments than they used to, including studios that can feel matchbox-sized. For Ori, an MIT-spawned startup, these small spaces mean big opportunity.

Ori makes a robotic furniture system that can fit a queen or full-sized bed, two desks, an entertainment center, and a walk-in closet into a package as small as 8 feet by 5 feet. The system can be flush against a wall, hiding the “bedroom” area, or it can glide out by a few feet to open up space for sleeping and dressing. Residents can control all of this with a pyramid-shaped node on the side of the unit, by using a phone app, or with Google’s and Amazon’s voice activated home systems, making it easier to set up than a Murphy bed. It’s a “Swiss Army knife for studio apartments,” says Ori founder Hasier Larrea.

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Larrea, 30, dreamed up the idea for the company with his colleagues at the MIT Media Lab while he was working on master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and media arts and sciences. He eventually spun out a company to commercialize these ideas, basing its name on origami, the Japanese paper art whose intricate folds and precision inspired the design.

As Ori’s team began working on products, they consulted with studio apartment dwellers, who told the company they wanted better ways to divide their space, an easy method for managing their beds, and room to dress in private. Meanwhile, new Boston-area apartments were shrinking — a 2016 study found they are an average of 11 percent smaller since 2009. That means people need to get more out of their living space, Larrea says.

“It’s not about putting in robotics because it’s cool,” he says. “It’s about, ‘What are the problems that studio renters are having that cannot be solved the old way? Let’s see if we can solve them the new way.’ ”

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After running pilot tests in a handful of locations, the Boston company is now shipping its first commercial units. For now, Ori is selling the $10,000 systems directly to builders, though it is considering direct-to-consumer sales, too.

Larrea sees the elegant combination of technology and furniture as the key to the company’s success. He says there are lots of specialists in robotics or furniture, but few who do both. Ori gets the track that helps the system move from a manufacturer in California, the power chassis from a Vermont company, and the woodworking from a supplier in Rhode Island.

The plan is to develop new products, like a bed that can ascend into the ceiling of a hotel room, or office spaces that rearrange themselves. “The company’s about much more than building robotic walls,” Larrea says. “It’s about how we develop a new strategy for designing spaces.”

ORI SYSTEM

SIZE Minimum: 8 feet long by 5 feet wide by 7.8 feet high. Maximum: 8 by 11.75 by 7.8

COST $10,000

SETUP TIME About one day for two workers

COMPONENTS Wood, steel, mechanicals, electronics, and software

HOW IT WORKS:


Andy Rosen is a Boston Globe staff writer. To see video of the Ori system in action, go to bostonglobe.com/ magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.