The world will be home to an estimated 10 billion people by 2050, one-quarter more than the Earth’s population today — and two-thirds of those will live in cities, according to United Nations figures. To combat overcrowding, the need to optimize space within urban dwellings will become an increasingly pressing issue, which is where Ori is setting out to make its mark.

Ori designs robotic home interiors that can be moved around and concealed when required. At its core, Ori helps homeowners, construction companies, and architects kit out residential buildings with space optimization firmly in mind.

Small spaces

The Boston-based startup today announced that it has raised $20 million in a series B round of funding led by Alphabet’s urban innovation offshoot Sidewalk Labs, with participation from IKEA franchisee Ingka Group, Khosla Ventures, and Geolo Capital. This takes its total funding to $27 million since its founding in 2015, and with its fresh cash injection it said that it plans to expand beyond creating robotic products and systems, and develop more partnerships with builders and architects to create flexible urban spaces.

Ori already has at least one impressive partner in place in the retail space, after it recently announced a tie-up with IKEA to develop robotic furnishings, which are expected to go to market in Asia first in 2020.

“This investment aligns closely with the direction of Ingka Group, where we want to be a partner in life at home for our customers by offering affordable, convenient and more sustainable small-space solutions — especially as more and more people move toward big cities,” noted Krister Mattsson, managing director at Ingka Investments. “In addition, we see potential opportunities to explore, together with Ori, new ways of building more flexible and responsive spaces that may allow us to create innovative meeting places and inspirational retail experiences for our customers in the future.”

By way of example, IKEA’s new Rognan range include a product that merges a sofa, bed, and wardrobe into a single unit, which slides and shifts in accordance with the space in which it’s installed.

Above: Ori partnered with IKEA to develop this Rognan robotic furniture range

Elsewhere, Ori has a range of moving and sliding robotic furniture, including closets that move out from the wall, beds that rise from the ground into the ceiling, and desks.

These can be controlled manually with a button on a wall, through the Ori mobile app, or even vocally via integrations with smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Echo.

Above: Ori: Shape-shifting

The story so far

Ori’s technology is built on research emanating from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) project called CityHome, which ran from 2011 until 2016, that sought to demonstrate how a modern home with a small footprint “can function as an apartment two to three times that size.”

Ori’s first production units didn’t go to market until 2018, and today it said that its products are installed in “more than 30 projects” across major U.S. cities.

Nabbing Sidewalk Labs as a lead investor is a notable development for Ori. Google’s sister company has garnered headlines recently for its audacious plans to transform Toronto’s waterfront into a smart city, but the Alphabet subsidiary has made a few direct investments in startups over the past couple of years, most recently leading a $5 million seed investment into a community marketplace for elderly people.

“Flexibility and efficiency make dense urban living not only more enjoyable, but also more affordable,” added Sidewalk Labs chairman and CEO Dan Doctoroff. “Ori’s technology and new way of conceiving flexible and responsive interior spaces unlocks the potential to provide city residents with access to a premier urban living experience at a reasonable price.”

Ori also fits into a wider trend that has seen startups and investors drive forward a sustainable agenda for cities, covering cleaner transport and finding new ways to cut waste. A few months back, Atomico and Northzone led a $25 million investment into a Norwegian company called Spacemaker, which has created AI-powered software that optimizes the layouts of residential developments in building projects. Ori is tackling the same problem as Spacemaker but from a different perspective — it’s looking at interior design rather than exterior construction.

“At Ori we see interior space differently; we’re challenging the centuries-old view that the functionality is linearly related to the amount of available physical space,” said Ori founder and CEO Hasier Larrea. “It is so energizing for us to have the opportunity to partner and collaborate with investors who similarly are rethinking how urban centers should be built and who are working at the building, neighborhood and city scale.”

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