THE BLOG
09/29/2015 05:47 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2016

Office That Builds Itself Is Like 'Minecraft Made Real'

Forget about moving desks or chairs around. The future of work space may be offices that assemble themselves.

As highlighted in a recent piece by Design Boom, Brooklyn-based construction robotics company asmbld is working on "agile offices" that can reconfigure themselves into varying designs, thanks to tiny robots placed under the floor.

The technology is still in a testing stage, but the idea is to eventually allow users to create furniture, walls, and other room designs via the tiny robot builders. Picture shelves and tables, made out of miniature tiles, surging and then falling back into the floor as needed, simply by requesting it on your phone. A video put together by asmbld shows what the technology could one day potentially do: private office spaces assembling tile by tile in the middle of a room, then dropping away and reconfiguring into a stage, equipped with a podium.

Project Dom Office Reconfiguration from asmbld on Vimeo.

"Users can design almost any 3D shape in this environment," the startup's website states. "It's like Minecraft made real."

The battery-operated robots manipulate the frames and tiles, building shapes like Lego pieces painstakingly stuck together. Some robots are dedicated to putting the construction materials together, while other robots push each new layer upwards. All of the robots are guided by light sensors and special marks on the floor surface -- currently, four of them can build a wall in about 30 minutes, according to asmbld.

Such technology is one way to deal with problems like expensive real estate and lack of space in urban environments, the startup's founders have argued. Rooms that can adapt themselves for various uses will become increasingly in demand as cities become more crowded and the nature of work becomes more collaborative, they've said. Reconfiguring rooms could also potentially help cut down demolition waste, by making it easier to repurpose what older buildings were used for.

There have been some other notable proposals to create reconfiguring spaces: Google plans to use large "crabots" to manipulate building interiors in its new campus, while MIT has created its own version of a responsive urban home. Architect Gary Chang managed to fit 24 different layouts into a single, 344-square-foot apartment in Hong Kong; while architect Graham Hill fit six rooms into one in New York City.

Those at asmbld have said these efforts are too expensive and overly dependent on custom-made furniture. They envision a point where each of those robots would cost less than $100, and can be easily installed in any room under the floor; although at the moment, asmbld says it costs about $12,000 to install the technology in a 500-square-foot room. The robots would also have to get to the point where they can manipulate all kinds of materials, from wood to ceramic to plastic. In any case, it's possible that in the not-too-distant future, employees won't just be playing with their cell phones during business meetings, they'll be sneakily building a mini-bar back at their work station.