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These startups are building smarter furniture

Even before the Revolution, New England was home to innovative furniture makers. Some of their products featured secret compartments for valuables, pull-out trays to hold candles, or fold-down surfaces that made big tables easier to tuck away against a wall.

Continuing that tradition these days are startups developing city benches that can recharge a smartphone while collecting data about pedestrian traffic, or building furniture for small spaces that can be automatically stashed away with a spoken command. But the craftsmen of the 18th century didn’t have venture capital firms or crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo to fund their development work. They also didn’t have to compete with global giants like IKEA of Sweden, which raked in a record $38.4 billion last year.


One of the most interesting startups in Boston, Ori Systems, is working on what it calls “architectural robotics” — a somewhat hype-y term for furniture that can get out of the way when it isn’t needed to make the most of a compact space. Founder Hasier Larrea says the company is focusing on studio apartments in the 300- to 600-square-foot range.

“The concept of transforming space is older than our grandpas,” Larrea says. “You have pull-out tables and Murphy beds.” Those might be fine for occasional use, but Larrea is thinking about an everyday routine that would involve using a desk in the afternoon, but putting it away at bedtime, or in the morning clearing space for a workout routine. He calls it having “space adapt to us, versus having us adapt to space, which is the way it has been for thousands of years.”

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One way you’ll be able to control Ori Systems’ furniture is with a touchscreen that lists certain “pre-sets,” such as “bedroom” or…

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