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MIT's Flatpack Furniture Assembles Itself In Seconds

The last time we checked in with MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, it was showing off video proof of a chair that assembles itself in water. Now, the team has uploaded video of its latest project: A flatpack table that does the assembly itself.


The lab calls it “programmable” furniture, and while that implies that this table has a machine-based brain behind it, that’s not exactly true. The prototype, which is being shown at the Salone del Mobile in Milan right now, was actually designed to take advantage of a special tensile fabric that’s strung between its wooden frame.


The frame itself was a collaboration with Wood-Skin, a company that’s developed an unusual wood laminate that can be flexed and transformed thanks to the careful milling of its surface into triangular pieces—eg, tessellation—that makes it flexible. Here’s what Wood-Skin’s products look like up close:

Illustration for article titled MITs Flatpack Furniture Assembles Itself In Seconds

The flexible wood frame makes it possible for the table to lie flat, the way it would be shipped or stored, and then smoothly transition into a 3D object. The tensile fabric between the legs pulls the pieces into place:


Obviously, it’s a proof of concept for a much larger idea—that material science has huge potential when it comes to what we buy. So much of what we own arrives packed inside a container, designed to be perfectly optimized for efficient shipping. Just look at the aluminum can. Materials that are “intelligent” enough to actually interact with their environments, adapting to conditions around them? That could be big—and not just for Ikea.

[MIT Self-Assembly Lab; Prosthetic Knowledge]

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I still don’t get what they mean by “programmable” outside of using it as a bs marketing term.