Carlo Ratti Associati tells Gizmag that the idea of a reconfigurable, digitally-connected piece of furniture is something it has been investigating for a long time, having been conscious of a lack of transformable furniture which is both fun and good-looking. Subsequently, work on the Lift-Bit began early last year.
"Lift-Bit draws on the potential of internet-of-things technologies to transform our interior landscape, giving form to an endlessly reconfigurable environment," explains Ratti. "In the future, we could imagine an architecture that adapts to human need, rather than the other way around – a living, tailored space that is molded to its inhabitants' needs, characters and desires."
Lift-Bit changes shape by way of motorized linear actuators built into each of the stools. These allow the height of the stools to be raised up or lowered in seconds. Any number of stools can be combined in a modular manner, staying together with the help of magnets. Carlo Ratti Associati suggests that two can form a chair, four a chaise longue or nine a large sofa.
Each Lift-Bit stool contains a proximity sensor that is used to detect a hand hovering above it at different heights. When a person holds their hand close the seat, its height is lowered, and when a hand is held further above the seat, the height is raised.
The height of the stools can also be adjusted using an accompanying mobile app, which also offers a variety of predetermined configurations. The app is still under development, but will be available for both Android and iOS. It is expected that the smart device running the app will connect to the modules over Wi-Fi.
When a number of stools are arranged together, it's possible for the activation of a single stool to affect the height of others and the system can even begin rearranging itself if it has not been used for a period of time and has "become bored." This is said to be a homage to British architect Cedric Price's 1970s "Generator Project" and is aimed at engaging users.
A full-size prototype of the Lift-Bit comprising 50 stools, each weighing about 25 kg (55 lb), has been unveiled at Milan Design Week and is on display in the "Rooms. Novel living concepts" exhibition until September 12, 2016.
The Lift-Bit system is currently being readied for mass production by Makr Shakr, and is up for pre-order. A single stool is priced at €799 (about US$900), while a 22-piece lounge sofa will set you back €14,000 (nearly $16,000). Availability has not yet been finalized, but the designers expect shipping to start in around four months.
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