Capitalism has resulted in the creation of some truly soul-sucking ideas, including the cubicle: an office without the privacy, comfort, or permanence of a real room. But if the open office trend (which has its own problems) has given you a glimmer of hope that one day you might be able to escape corporate America’s once omnipresent felt-covered half-walls? You can let it slip away, because someone’s gone and invented robotic temporary offices that can chase you to the ends of the Earth.
The temporary existence of the cubicle is a daily reminder that those who work within are temporary too. Should an entire division need to be let go, their offices can simply disappear overnight, and the space quickly repurposed into something else.
WaddleWalls, developed by a team of robotics researchers at Japan’s Tohoku University, is a creation that takes the temporary nature of cubicles and partition walls one step further by automating them and allowing them to roam and navigate a space and set up a semi-private office space only as needed.
As detailed in a recently published paper, the self-contained robotic partitions that can independently navigate an office space through the use of various sensors, but can also work as a larger swarm with other WaddleWalls units to assemble a privacy barrier around a worker on demand. In the morning, users of a shared office space might be more inclined to interact with each other to sort out the day’s goals, while later in the day, they might prefer more privacy to focus on getting work done, or as to not bother others with phone calls.
The system currently relies on a special controller to call the WaddleWalls units over and to orientate them as needed, including adjusting the height of the vertical barrier to increase or decrease privacy. But specific layouts can also be pre-programmed in advance, like a group of private working spaces for multiple users, or a display wall for making presentations, which could be triggered to assemble automatically so there’s far less manual setup involved.
For those who work in an office with an open floor plan and often find themselves scrambling to locate a private space for a phone call or video call, the general idea of the WaddleWalls isn’t entirely outlandish. And eventually, the researchers want to expand the idea with additional units that can provide temporary desks, shelving, and even filing cabinets on demand. It’s certainly a concept that office managers might embrace, but employees? Imagine finding out you’ve been laid off when the cubicle you’re working in suddenly starts to disassemble itself and roll away. It’s as unsettling an idea as it is a probable one.