In 1976, the iconoclastic British architect Cedric Price created a proposal for a performance space that could rearrange itself into infinite reconfigurations. The project, called Generator, relied on a computer program to move a system of cube-like elements along tracks on a grid, creating and recreating temporary spaces that could be used for rehearsals, performances, and housing. Proposed to the Gillman Corporation, the project was thought to be too complex, and it was never built.
These days, Internet of Things technology has made it much easier to create reconfigurable furniture. In many ways, the Lift-Bit, an modular, Internet-connected sofa from international design firm Carlo Ratti and Swiss furniture company Vitra picks up where Price left off. Ratti, who is also director of MIT's Senseable City Lab (the same folks who recently proposed getting rid of stoplights) designed the furniture as a set of hexagonal stools that can be manually arranged to form anything from sofa and chair to a bed or chaise longue. Using a mobile app connected to a linear actuator (essentially, a motor that moves vertically instead of in circles), users can raise and lower the stools for a shape-shifting, infinitely reconfigurable piece of furniture. A flat surface can be transformed into a couch, for example, by raising stools for the back and the armrest. You can even control it in person by hovering your hand over the seat to raise it. Imagine "rearranging" your furniture like a conductor directs an orchestra.
Even more intriguing? Like Price's Generator, the furniture will grow "bored" if it's neglected and start reconfiguring itself. In other words, the Lift-Bit hits on one of the most nightmarish aspects of the prospect of IoT—that one day your intelligent objects will get a mind of its own.
Just a prototype for now, the Lift-Bit debuts this week at XXI Trienniale Di Milano, an international exhibition being held throughout Milan.