RockPaperRobot just sounds fun, even when you have no idea what it’s all about.
When you do learn what this startup company is about, things only get more interesting, not less. The company is driven by it’s founder Jessica Banks, MIT roboticist by training, now the designer of some of the world’s coolest furniture and fixtures. I found Jessica’s work by keeping an eye on startups out of MIT, and seeing the name RockPaperRobot, I had to check it out.
This little NOVA spotlight will give you a bit of an idea of who Jessica is and what she’s all about:
I caught up with Jessica first about how she made the rather unique transition from MIT roboticist to designer of furniture and fixtures. Admittedly, she was starting off a little bit behind the 8 ball. “The guys in the machine shop had spent all of their earlier, formative years building skateboard ramps and taking things apart and smashing stuff… and I was feathering Barbie’s hair… so there was a learning curve.”
Despite having to learn some of the hard lessons late (for example, what will take my finger off, and what will just scratch me), Jessica became empowered by learning to build, and learning to control metal, “and that’s where my other interests of sculpture and physics came together, too.” When you look at what she’s doing with kinetic furniture and robotic lighting fixtures, it’s becomes relatively clear that you’re seeing more than one passion at work. The piece that helped get the company going, their levitating table (seen in the video above) – combined with their story – landed RockPaperRobot on one of American Expresses’ Open Forum videos as well.
I wanted to talk to talk to Jessica about how her technology / design mix can bring a unique kind of function to a room or environment. One else example is this robotic chandelier. Jessica points out that using the term “robotic chandelier” is pretty intimidating, but that isn’t really the point.
Essentially, the chandelier has a number of different light points which can rotate either closer to, or farther from, the center of the chandelier. The machine can be set to remain in either setting, or it can oscillate “If you’re having a party… you can have the chandelier moving in and out like breathing.” Alternatively, you can have the lights respond (via sensors, yay robotics) to the activity in the room. “You could have sensors around the room so that when you have a big party and there’s a lot of ambient noise the chandelier can be unfurled… then if you all sit together under the chandelier, it can close up and focus the light differently.”
For Jessica, “function” involves more that just the lighting, but a potentially deeper kind of “attuned-ness” to the owner of the space, in addition to being an object of admiration. Jessica talks about having lights that might even slide along a track and follow people down a hall, and she told me she’s got another 30 chandelier designs on deck.
It’s sort of a far-out notion to have a house that calibrates it’s behavior to your preferences, but of course, that’s sort of the point. In an era of “smart” phones and the emergence of “smart homes,” Jessica’s aim is to be on the cutting edge – but to do so in style.
If you want to learn more about what Jessica’s up to, RockPaperRobot has just about every social profile imaginable – and I happen to think that their Instagram account is one of the best spots to get an eye into their workshop.