There’s nothing worse than arriving home from Ikea, so excited about your new living room furniture, only to spend the rest of your weekend slaving over the assembly instructions and cursing in Swedish.
A new piece of software, recently detailed by a team of researchers spanning Singapore, China, and Israel, promises to design furniture that assembles without screws, wood, or glue. Instead, you can piece this furniture together by hand because every part interlocks.
“In a nutshell, you (the designer) give me a furniture design, and the software modifies its geometry to make it interlocking with the joints,” explains lead author Philip Fu in an email.
Maybe that sounds simple–as if the software just swaps out some brackets for slats and calls it a day. In reality, the algorithm analyzes and tweaks the design so that the pieces don’t just slide together, they also won’t slide apart. The furniture must be assembled in a particular order that leaves one “key” at the end. This key might be a table leg–inaccessible, weight-bearing, and thereby unlikely to affect you day to day. But flip the table over, remove the key, and the whole thing comes apart again for easy moving.
In their demo video, the researchers have shown off designs ranging from shelves, to desks, to even a big bunk bed structure, complete with parts that fit in at diagonal angles rather than a more utilitarian 90 degrees.
There is a catch. While the software can analyze and modify geometry, it’s not accounting for physics. So the repetitive stress of placing real weight on these simulated structures could break them. As a result, the team is considering building force analysis tools into the software’s next version.
For now, the team hopes to transform these virtual structures into real furniture through a corporate partnership. “We are trying to contact Ikea currently,” Lu writes, “but we welcome any collaboration as we would like to see real products.”