Smart Office Furniture Will Create Voice-Activated, Video-Enabled Workspaces

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An image of an office setup that might look differently once smart office furniture becomes the norm.

In the course of your futuristic walk from the front door of your company office to your desk, you’ll be greeted by a few colleagues plus an HD TV screen, your computer, your digital calendar, and your desk.

The screen is a shared, wall-mounted tablet hung in the hallway, and it’s digitally noting your arrival by pinging your smartphone, declaring you as available for any impromptu meeting your boss may call. Your computer is like a pet you keep at work, always happy to see you with the daily news on hand. Your calendar is a two-way video conference link that idles with the day’s schedule on display.

And your desk–well, your desk can sense your slightly accelerated heartbeat through your smartwatch and knows to tilt your chair back a few extra degrees to soothe what it anticipates are gym-worn muscles.   

It’s a smooth, seamless start to the day, made possible by the smart office furniture that is slowly making its way into offices in the U.S. and beyond.

Smarter Means More Efficient

To be clear, we’re not talking about a future where we all float around idle and physically immobile on motorized furniture, like the futuristic humans of Wall-E.

Smart office furniture will instead embed digital connections into the world you walk through, work in, and frequent daily. This Internet of Things technology makes it possible for the furniture and devices around you to send signals to the internet in order to interact with, and potentially control, anything else that can reach the internet.

It’s the tech behind fridges that make grocery lists, washing machines that reorder their own laundry detergent, and smart speakers that let you dim the lights by voice command. When these objects enter the workforce, however, they must ditch the frivolous in favor of the functional. They have to schedule meetings when you’re not even there to check your emails. They must recognize you by your digital trail and set the room up to suit your personal preferences. And, they must blend into your surroundings to make the whole thing run smoothly.

Smart Office Furniture Through IoT

A smart desk that can communicate with you is already available for purchase. New York firm Humanscale has placed sensors in its desk and chairs that can monitor how long a user has been sitting or standing at their workstation. The idea is to encourage users to change their position frequently in order to increase blood flow and stave off heart conditions and high blood pressure. The furniture is powered by a discrete sensor capable of monitoring its surroundings, and it’s not hard to imagine a time when that sensor will not only alert the user but connect to their chair and subtly manipulate it to encourage the right posture.

And if it can do that, why couldn’t it team with other smart devices to control the entire room or track a person’s movement–or lack of movement–around the office?

Let’s say your desk talks to your calendar and knows you’re late for a meeting because it senses you’re still at your desk. Maybe it could pass on a verbal reminder to be played through your computer, or a visual one displayed in blinking urgency by your video screen…or it could tell your chair to tip you out and get you moving.

The Instant, Automated Video Room

That might be a little hands-on for most people’s liking, but it would jog your memory about that meeting. Should that meeting be a video conference, then these smart devices can really come to the fore.

Cisco has already developed a smart room that can recognize you personally through your smartphone the second you enter. Its cameras and microphone arrays can adjust automatically to the presence and voices of video callers and switch a meeting’s focus to the current speaker without any help. Similarly, Microsoft has partnered with Logitech to develop a Smart Dock that combines with a tablet to bring touchscreen efficiency to beginning a video call.

Couple those ideas with smart in-room devices that can adjust the lighting and even draw the curtains via voice command–actually, smart technology already exists that’ll do this without being asked–and you have an entire system working together to ensure your meeting runs smoothly.

The rise of smart office furniture will see these devices being built into the conference table, the arms of the chairs, and panels in the roof. Every word of your conversation will be recorded by AI bots that ship with the video conferencing platform, just as Skype currently operates, and the minutes will be automatically transcribed, prepared, and shared with any colleague who needs them.

When the meeting is done, when the day is done, you just stand up and say goodbye, and all the smart devices will begin the task of getting ready to greet you again in the morning.

Image Source: Unsplash user Farzad Nazifi

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