In May I had the privilege of visiting the MIT Media Lab with Hasier Larrea. Hasier is a freshly minted graduate of the MIT Media Lab’s Changing Places group where he led their Architectural Robotics research. From their website, “the Changing Places group proposes that fundamentally new strategies must be found for creating the places where people live/work, and the mobility systems that connect them, in order to meet the profound challenges of the future.” In short, his team uses robotic tools to transform standard architecture and furniture elements into intelligent, flexible entities and therefore space.

Their CityHOME project has received a lot of attention thanks in large part to the micro-unit trend washing over Boston and across the country (a wave they no doubt, helped generate). And for good reason. 200 Sf has indeed, never felt so large.

Their CityOffice project is what particularly interests us at Red Thread, however. In their words, “architectural robotics enable a hyper-efficient, dynamically re-configurable co-working space that accommodates a wide range of activities in a small area.” Inspiration from the co-working movement is clear and logical. For starters, the space is as innovative as the people working in it. What’s better than a robotic tray table delivering your morning coffee to help get the creative juices flowing.

The effortless ability of robots to create a large amount of (physical) opportunity in a small amount of real estate is incredibly valuable for the start-up world in particular, where employee tasks change by the day, if not the hour, and the number of employees can multiply far faster than the terms on a lease. At Red Thread, we refer to that type of thinking as “resilient” real estate, or real estate “optimization”. The design world has approached the challenge of flexibility and adaptation from one angle – typically designing spaces that can support multiple uses within the same physical configuration. A private office that duals as a phone room or huddle room. A work café that duels as an event space. And so on.

The MIT CityOffice angle on adaptability is different, however, in that they are physically changing the space to accommodate different uses. A screen drops from the ceiling to create a privacy wall. A table folds out of the wall for a meeting. An entire wall moves to transform a small huddle room into a large conference room. See some of the early prototypes for yourself.

The ideas need refinement (perhaps a designers touch alongside the engineers ingenuity), but the potential is real and exciting. Hasier is launching a start up with some team members this summer, so stay tuned. The era of robotics in the workplace has quite literally landed in our backyard.

To learn more, check out some related blogs and articles:

This apartment expands with the wave of a hand. | Time

Living in an urban shoebox? You need a RoboWall. | Washington Post

MIT’s CityHome Is A House In A Box You Control By Waving Your Hand | Fast Company CoDesign