IKEA’s Self-Assembly Table

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ikeaWe’ve seen the remarkable programmable materials coming out of MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab for years—things like magnetic chairs that could snap together in a fish tank, or textiles that could flex themselves into various shapes—but it’s always been research-level work.

But now, the lab has teamed up with Wood-Skin to produce a table that slides out of a flat pack box and, within seconds, pops into shape with no screws, nails, or glue required. On display at last weeks Salone Del Mobile furniture fair in Milan, it’s rated to hold up to 220lbs of weight. And the best part? It’s consumer-ready.

“I’m happy to say what we have in our hands is more than a prototype,” explains Wood-Skin’s Giulio Masotti. “It’s an actual product that could be on sale tomorrow.”

The partnership between MIT and Wood-Skin began about a year ago. It’s what the Self-Assembly Lab’s Director Skylar Tibbits calls a perfect marriage, and for good reason. Wood-Skin makes wooden panels that bend into virtually any polygonal shape. The Self-Assembly Lab makes textiles that can be sewn or “programmed” with a sort of muscle memory. Put the two together, and the result is something like their new table. It’s a jointed wood skeleton, connected by fabric muscles. Out of the box, the muscles pull the flat skeleton into shape. And once it pops into table form, the skeleton is arranged in a self-supporting geometry. The fabric has done its job and the payload falls to the wood.

For now, the duo has created a single table. But the core physics and materials at play—what the team calls a series of “smart hinges” that snap structures into place—could be implemented with other furniture.

“We’re creating a new design grammar made of hinges. It works a little like origami,” Masotti explains. “If you understand the grammar, you can design any type of furniture you want—a chair, lamp, or bookshelf.”

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