Robotic furniture transforms tiny apartment

With rents spiking, this might be the first robot young city-dwellers invest in

Home robots are the promised land of a consumer market that has been on the precipice of burgeoning for a few years.

But aside from a roving vacuum cleaner-turned-spy or a Tesla with some self-driving functionality, you probably don't have a robot in your house. (Cue pedantic debate about dishwashers and washing machines.)

One company is hoping to take a circuitous path past the discarded corpses of helper bot prototypes and creepy home assistants. Ori has developed a line of robotic, reconfigurable furniture that moves around a small space, creating new partitions and spitting out hidden features like cabinets, a bed, or a desk on-demand.

The pitch is well-timed. If you live in San Francisco, New York, or Vancouver, you probably don't have as much space as you want. Out here in Los Angeles, my wife and I are fretting over the imminent conversion of our son's crib into a full-fledged bed.

We've seen similar designs. In 2015, San Fran based consultancy Asmbld launched Project Dom Indoors, a research effort evaluating the potential and feasibility of a room that can be reconfigured with help from hundreds of tiny robots.

In general, reconfigurable furniture is a popular pin on Pinterest, channeling vibes from the tiny house movement and #vanlife.

What's significant here is that Ori is nearly ready to come to market, and it might be among the first consumer robots to appeal to young city dwellers.

Ori's two models, one with a queen bed and one with a full, plug into a wall outlet and are controlled by voice via Alexa or Google Home or through an app. The units cost about $10,000 each and are on display in model apartments in major cities in the U.S. and Canada.

Ori expects to deliver its first intelligent furniture systems this year, with an initial production run of 1200.