What if Your Home Had Superpowers?

Think 200 square feet is too small to live in? Think again.

According to the U.N., more than 54 percent of the world’s population is living in cities. As technology continues to grow, our everyday possessions continue to shrink. Our cellphones are getting smaller, cars are getting smaller and now our homes are getting smaller. However, Hasier Larrea, an engineer and designer at the MIT Media Lab, said there are still important barriers prohibiting us from fully “living smaller” and we need to get past them.

“We need to rethink the way we design, we create, we relate to our spaces,” Larrea said.

Larrea and his team created a project called CityHome which can make the smallest of apartments feel double or triple the size. CityHome is essentially a mechanical box about the size of a closet that sits in an apartment, stowing a bed, dining room table, kitchen surface, cooking range, closet, and extra storage. With a simple hand gesture, you can summon any of the pieces. Voiccityhomee and touch commands work as well. If that isn’t enough, the entire unit can shift in either direction, revealing or concealing a bathroom.

The team learned two basic principles through research that will allow this project to become a reality. The first basic principle is:

  1. We don’t need as much space as we think we need. We are surrounded by “space killers,” such as beds taking up an entire room when we aren’t sleeping and a meeting table taking up an office space when there’s no meeting happening. These items are great while they’re being used, but after the fact they’re just wasted space.

Larrea argues the use of robotics is the answer to making living spaces behave as if they were twice or three times the size.

“Transformation needs to be effortless, and if possible, magical,” Larrea noted. “So, how do we bring magic into mundane things? It’s called, ‘furniture with super powers.’”

What if your furniture was an intelligent hub and heavy objects, such as beds, closets and walls, were weightless? What if it could take on different architectural shapes to MIT-CityHome-Modular-Gesture-Controlled-Living-Console-6adjust to multiple uses and spaces? What if your furniture could be an intelligent hub so the Internet is not just about surrounding features like lighting and thermostats, but things that give character to your space and could recognize your emotions, how you’re sitting and when you fall, and have a reaction to that? What if all of this was programmable the same way we simply program our cellphones? Think about having access to a “home App Store” or an “office App Store” and the ability to download functions you want.

The team calls it “Architectural Robotics.”

The second basic principle is:

  1. Space augmentation. The only way to make a space act as if it’s double or triple the size is through robotics. Architects and designers don’t necessarily have the skills for implementing complex robotic ideas, so Larrea’s team wants to provide the essential tool kit. They were inspired by Legos, which provides kids with a kit of parts to explore their imaginations. They’re creating a kit of parts for grown-ups, architects and designers to help them tackle the challenges they’re faced with.

“The moment you let creative people work on applications, without having to worry about low-level complexities of engineering, for example, is the moment you create a revolution,” Larrea said.

Eric Silverman, managing partner at Eastham Capital, is a graduate of MIT Sloan and became involved with the project due to the mutual multifamily nature of his company and the project.

“I was impressed with the solution they’re creating for what is a very real problem for urban infill apartments,” Silverman said. “I don’t think this is a solution for suburban and rural housing. I don’t think this is a solution for affordable housing. This is a solution for probably relatively young, single people, maybe couples, who need housing in tight urban areas.”

Silverman isn’t the biggest fan of micro-units but he does understand there is a need for them, especially in markets like New York City, San Francisco and other large cities. He said CityHome is one of the best solutions he has seen so far for utilizing space effectively and making this type of unit comfortably livable.

“Do I think that micro units are the next big wave to take over? Absolutely not, Silverman said. “Do I think there will be some micro units and this is a great solution to make them so much more viable and make them places that people will want to live longer – maybe two or three years? I absolutely do. Do I also think these guys have a business where they can sell very small units to people just coming to New York or San Francisco or very tight urban infill places that need to get going somewhere but need to have a place? Absolutely again.”

Larrea noted, “For those who are still skeptical, let me tell you this is not science fiction anymore – this is now.”