Technology 3 min read

The Future of Furniture: Self-inflating Objects and Slinky Chairs

Sergey Nivens |

Sergey Nivens |

One of the latest inventions to come out of MIT Media Lab, auto-inflatable and shape-changing objects, promises to change the future of furniture–among other practical applications.

Imagining how technologies will affect our future is no easy task.

Sight” is a short film that attempts to imagine a future in which Augmented Reality has become an integral part of daily life. In the seven-minute film, the protagonist, Patrick uses contact lenses allowing him to live in an augmented world where daily “boring” chores are turned into entertaining, video game-like tasks.

#MIT creates auto-inflatable and shape-changing objects. Click To Tweet

Under the ‘Mixed Reality‘ veneer, Patrick’s apartment is barren of furniture except for a couch and a rug. Perhaps this is because he lost a connection with the physical world, or maybe it’s just him. Anyway, we thought he could use some futuristic furniture to go with his high-tech yet bland existence.

MIT might have already developed some furniture Patrick would be a fan of as it self-inflates and can be reshaped.

Shape-Changing Auto-Inflatables

Inflatable objects, or inflatables, have flexible walls and a valve that allows it to trap fluids or gasses so as to increase their volume and turn them into a desired shape.

Inflatable objects take up much less space when deflated, and are therefore easier to store. Yet, the need to manually pump up these things combined with their typically weak construction means we don’t often see them outside of the campground.

Researchers at MIT Media Lab have taken the concept of inflatables to the next level: auto-inflatable objects that can take specific shapes without the need for external activation.

“By using chemical reactions as a source of carbon dioxide on-demand,” said researchers behind the Auto-Inflatables project, “we are able to induce a wide range of interaction-triggered transformations in our designs. These include changes in shape, volume, texture, temperature, color, and movement. With these techniques, self-contained actuation can be achieved without the need for external hardware to activate material changes.”

The team placed many small bags inside the structure and filled them with a chemical mixture that produces carbon monoxide (red flag). These auto-inflatables still need to be activated, but a simple touch of the hand will do the job. No blowing, pumping, or holding two hoses together for 9 minutes.

And hopefully no more of this | Pinterest

According to MIT scientists, other than self-inflating, flat furniture, their concept could find other useful applications, for example, to make auto-inflatable life jackets that don’t rely on a CO2 canister. Easy-to-use compression bandages are probably the most practical application suggested so far.

The four researchers behind the project (Penelope Eugenia Webb, Amos Golan, Jifei Ou, and Ken Nakagaki) have published a thesis on the concept (Chemical Inflation for Assisted Assembly).

Slinky Couch

You may have seen this one before. Flexible Love Expanding Chair is a 25 kilogram, accordion-like chair that can stretch to accommodate up to 16 people comfortably. Again, however, how many people would use this outside of a temporary space or an office gag?

What is very cool about these chairs, other than the novelty of seeing how many Meatwad-esque shapes it can take, is that they are environmentally friendly construction. They can be constructed using renewable materials like hemp, and they are relatively cheap to build.

If you didn’t have to inflate it, would you use inflatable furniture?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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