Ikea’s prototype ‘home of the future’.
Ikea’s prototype ‘home of the future’.

Ikea’s insane new hi-tech furniture

Ikea has unveiled a new range of robotic furniture that will add an extra eight square metres of space to apartments by transforming a bedroom into a living room with the press of a button.

The Rognan range, developed in collaboration with MIT-affiliated tech firm Ori, will first launch in Hong Kong and Japan next year - and is clearly inspired by Bruce Willis' retracting bed from the 1997 sci-fi film The Fifth Element.

"For the last 10 to 15 years robotic furniture was something you would see in movies, but the technologies are getting very mature and are already changing the way we design, the way we create and the way we live in our spaces," said Ori founder Hasier Larrea.

"Rognan is the perfect example of bringing together the robotics of Ori and the furniture design of Ikea to create a much-needed solution for urban spaces. More and more people are going to be able to live with these technologies very soon, not in the distant future."

The robotic furniture adds an extra eight square metres of space.
The robotic furniture adds an extra eight square metres of space.


It's one of a suite of product lines and concepts centred on the theme of small-space living presented at the furniture giant's Democratic Design Days conference in Sweden this week.

In a similar vein is the Ravaror, a sort of Tetris-like trolley on wheels loaded with items that can be unpacked and assembled to create a complete living space in about 12 square metres.

The collection, which goes on sale next year, consists of 20 products including a daybed and sofa, tables, mini kitchen, open storage and storage boxes, textiles and lighting.

With an estimated 1.5 million people around the world joining the urban population every week, Ikea says small-space living is one of its three long-term priorities along with ordered living and living with children.

The Ravaror is an entire living space that packs up into a small trolley.
The Ravaror is an entire living space that packs up into a small trolley.


"We see people migrate to the big cities, space becomes smaller, more people live in less square metres and that puts challenges on the products," Ikea product design manager Henrik Heegaard told news.com.au.

"You can't have a big sofa, the sofa needs to serve multiple needs. How do you orchestrate a home where you live with your grandparents who takes care of your children, or you are a group of young people, three mates sharing a flat? What kind of new challenges does that pose? We see it as an opportunity."

Mr Heegaard said Ikea was also keen to explore "mobile" living. "In the big city, life happens in the home but also outside the home, so we're very curious about mobile solutions," he said.

"What are the things you bring with you in life in the big cities? How can you make that mix where you have something you use when you're on the go, and then when you come home it slots into your home furnishing solutions? When you come to this nano-living, which is something that we see in very big cities, there's an entire palette of solutions we haven't discovered yet."

Small-space living is a major priority for the furniture company.
Small-space living is a major priority for the furniture company.


Meanwhile, Ikea has kicked off two projects that aim to "rethink construction, management and life cycle of our buildings to become sustainable, affordable and socially equal for the people who wish to live there".

Both are heavily focused on fostering more tight-knit communities, which Ikea says will "give people a sense of belonging - a proven boost to health and happiness" by providing access to shared facilities and services including things like day care, urban farming, communal dining, fitness, shared transportation and retail.

The first, created in collaboration with architecture firm Ikano Bostad, is a prototype "home of the future" designed to "simplify sharing and open up for different kinds of families".

The 85 square metre apartment, one of several possible configurations for different numbers of occupants, showcases around 40 individual product and design concepts, from the layout of the apartment itself to the furnishings and technology.

The prototype home of the future doesn’t use a traditional layout.
The prototype home of the future doesn’t use a traditional layout.


They include the Rognan - which allows the same floor space to be used as a bedroom, walk-in closet, work space and living room - curtains made from pollution-filtering "smart" fabric, and a kitchen designed to cut down on food waste by storing items at different temperatures.

The two halves of the apartment on either side of the kitchen-living area can be closed off with lockable screens - potentially allowing part of the space to be rented out on Airbnb.

Storage is shifted to the outside of the apartment with lockable cupboards next to the front door, meaning you will either have to be very trusting of your neighbours or not mind risking your bed linen being nicked.

"It's designed for shared living - we have designed the solutions, the services, the layout based on in this case that it's supposed to be multi-generational living, for example a single mum with kids and her parents," said Ikea innovation strategist Mikael Ydholm.

Instead it’s designed around ‘activities’.
Instead it’s designed around ‘activities’.


"But of course it's meant to be for all kinds of families, it can be rainbow families, it can be friends living together or collective living, and traditional nuclear families as well."

Mr Ydholm said unlike the traditional way of designing an apartment which starts with room layout, Ikea and Ikano Bostad instead started by looking at the kinds of activities we do in our homes nowadays.

"Because as we all know, habits are changing. Many people eat in the kitchen and the living room, the bedroom," he said. "You work at the local cafe, you work from home, in the office, so you use your home slightly differently today."

The second, a futuristic shared living concept dubbed the Urban Village Project - currently little more than some concept art and a website - comes from Ikea's Copenhagen-based think tank Space10.

The Urban Village Project is based on communal living.
The Urban Village Project is based on communal living.


Think shipping container homes, except made from flatpack wooden frames. The modular units could be mixed and matched in various ways, from small freestanding buildings to, apparently, full-sized apartment buildings.

"Don't worry, we're not expecting you to unpack a box and put your house together yourself," said Space10 architectural lead Jamiee Williams.

"But what it means is we can create new long-term circular relationships with companies and partners to actually provide these components to your home, so everything can be disassembled, replaced, reused and recycled."

The project outlines everything from the design of the homes themselves to the shared facilities, app-based connectivity and financing structures, such as new subscription-based models of renting - pay a higher "subscription" to unlock access to the community gym, for example.

It looks nice, but will it ever happen?
It looks nice, but will it ever happen?


"We need to start offering something new between renting and buying," Ms Williams said.

She stressed that "this isn't a building we're proposing". "It's a vision for a scalable and flexible concept of construction that can actually be adapted and scaled to different scenarios and contexts," she said.

"It could be an in-fill in Europe, or a skyscraper in dense cities, or even villages in emerging economies."

Ikea admits it's still a long way off, and would require extensive partnerships with developers, builders and planning authorities to make a reality.

"What's interesting right now is many municipalities have this question at the forefront," said Ikea development leader Evamaria Ronnegard. "Many are realising the problem, the more difficult thing is to come with a good proposal on how to solve it."


The author travelled to Almhult as a guest of Ikea

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