Business Today

Smart Fitments For Borderless Homes

As cities run out of space, we have little option but to depend on furniture which gets transformed at our command
twitter-logoBusinessToday.In | Print Edition: July 14, 2019
Smart Fitments For Borderless Homes
Illustration by Raj Verma

For centuries, humans conceived plans and built rooms so that each could be used for a specific purpose - a living room for receiving visitors, a dining room for meals and a bedroom for rest, relaxation and sleeping. But today, cities are getting increasingly crowded and space comes at a premium. This is compelling us to reconceptualise household furniture so that they can meet all our requirements within the limited space most of us can afford.

Swedish furniture giant Ikea, in partnership with Boston-based Ori Living, is ushering in this unique and useful trend of super functionality. The company is working on a new line of robotic furniture called Rognan, especially suitable for tiny apartments. Its USP: The multifunctional units will ensure most efficient utilisation of space as they can be converted from storage-and-seating units to bed-and-closet pieces and back as and when it is needed. In brief, they do not occupy a dedicated space for each function, unlike traditional homes with specific rooms and traditional furniture.

Based on the research conducted by Hasier Larrea (CEO of Ori Living) and MIT Professor Kent Larson at MIT Media Lab, the company, set up in 2015, visualised urban living differently because "95 per cent of the world population lives on 10 per cent of the land and 1.5 million people across the globe move to a city every week". It believes urban space is too valuable and scarce to be static and unresponsive, which is why it wants to treat furniture like origami to make better use of space. "Static floor plans, rigid buildings and unresponsive structures constrain modern lifestyles that are more mobile and less predictable than ever. Today, we need urban spaces that are versatile and vibrant, flexible and responsive," the company's website says.

Using technology and smart components, Ori Living designs kits for robotic architecture to set up rooms which change depending on what the inhabitants need at a specific time. Imagine waking up in the morning and freshening up. By the time you are through, the bedroom becomes a dining room, ready for you to have breakfast. The same area turns into a workspace when the furniture retracts and folds in and extends or shifts to create a desk and drawers. In the evening, it will be ready for entertaining/partying/meals (some companies are already working on mood lighting and music that can be turned on and off with a simple command). There can be much more - for instance, a bed which drops down from the ceiling and retracts, leaving behind a sofa, or a walk-in closet that opens at the touch of a button and closes to become a wall.

These furniture shifts require minimal efforts as Ori's can be voice commanded or pre-scheduled to change. A touchpad located on the unit can be tapped to make the change or one can integrate it with Alexa, Amazon's smart assistant. This means a routine "Good night, Alexa" can change the couch into a bed, dim the lights and perhaps turn off the TV/music in readiness for sleep.

Ori Living is also open to Ikea-like partnerships with others to scale up its smart furniture across cultures and styles. That is the way ahead as smart fitments create borderless homes.

AI Decodes Cry Language

In this digital era, no part of our life is untouched by artificial intelligence (AI). The latest proof: An AI-based research has been conducted to understand what babies try to convey when they cry. One may argue that parents can intuitively understand why their babies are crying but they may not be able to recognise a call for help in case of underlying health issues.

Recently, there has been a breakthrough. A US-based group of researchers has developed an algorithm that can distinguish between normal and distressed crying. Each baby cry is unique but all of them contain some common features if caused by the same reason. The research team used an algorithm based on automatic speech recognition to extract all the elements in cry signals and further used compressed sensing (reconstruction of a signal from minimal data, especially when sounds are recorded in noisy environments) to classify and analyse them for health-related information.

"Lots of research has been directed towards natural language processing," the researchers said in their paper published in IEEE/CAA Journal of Automatica Sinica. "However, the baby's cry? has not yet been extensively explored, because it is not a language that can be easily understood. Since cry signals carry information about babies' well-being, recognition and analysis of an infant's cry are not only possible but also has profound medical and societal applications."

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