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Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Smart furniture to end DIY headaches
Man doing DIY
Building a flat-pack is often more difficult than it seems
Anyone who has ever attempted to build a piece of flat-pack furniture will be pleased to hear scientists are working to make them fool-proof.

Smart furniture of the future could be fitted with microchips that will flash to let you know which piece to fit next and alert you if you have done something wrong.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich fitted sensors to an Ikea wardrobe which worked out where all pieces go in relation to one another, reported New Scientist magazine.

At the moment the sensors are wirelessly connected to a PC but researchers hope eventually to build LED-displays into the parts themselves.

It could even be incorporated into screwdrivers to let DIY enthusiasts know if they have over-tightened screws.

DIY wrongs

The scientists found that there are 44 ways to build an Ikea wardrobe without the instructions.

Only eight of these result in correct and safe construction.

Followed correctly, instruction sheets supplied by the Swedish furniture manufacturer should lead to a perfect result.

But often people putting together flat-pack furniture ignore the assembly order in the instructions, thinking it does not matter.

A spokeswoman for Ikea told the BBC 'smart' furniture had a good future.

"We think it is a great idea," she said. "It's always possible.

"You never know when new innovations are going to take off.

"Ikea have always been known for their new ideas and innovations.

"We have a huge research department, but I can't tell you what goes on there. It's all top secret," she said.


Are smart chips in flat-packs a good idea? This is what you said:

No amount of technology can make up for idiot assembly.
Eric Grey, USA


Anybody with only a small amount of common sense can put together simple furniture

Phil, UK
I am not sure I would be happy owning a wardrobe that is potentially smarter than I am.
A Reitemeyer, Germany

Come on people ! If you can't put a flat-pack together then you are beyond hope. You can usually put these together without even looking at the (badly written) instructions.
Adam Buckley, UK

This is a silly idea. Anybody with only a small amount of common sense can put together simple furniture. Incorporating hi-tech gadgetry will only increase the price.
Phil, UK

Though the idea of 'smart' flat-packs is fun, I wouldn't pay any extra to get the feature. I know I'm adept at making flat-pack furniture, but what happens if the chips malfunction? Will people be able to return the furniture? I'm not convinced!
Bart, UK


Does this mean my wardrobe could crash and need an occasional reboot?

Gareth Preece, UK
I doubt it'll be popular with consumers. These ideas would probably cost consumers a fortune extra on top of what is already expensive furniture from Ikea
Yee, UK

If they are so full of ideas and innovations then why don't they have online ordering?
John Grafham, UK

Does this mean my wardrobe could crash and need an occasional reboot?
Gareth Preece, UK

Does this mean we will have to buy upgrades for our wardrobes every couple of years. What will happen if the new upgrade is not compatible with the previous system, will the wardrobe fly apart ?
Douglas, Portugal

Why don't they just stick little numbered labels on the pieces. Keep it simple stupid!
Don S, France


The cost of incorporating electronics into furniture would not only add cost to the product, but would become an eyesore once the product had been assembled

Dr Simon Williams, UK
I think if somebody has difficulty understanding the simple written instructions provided with the furniture then how do you expect him/her to comprehend data on a LED-display.
Assad Wardak, Canada

If they wanted to make something really useful, they could make a wardrobe that builds itself.
Andrew, UK

Why can't flat-pack manufacturers put a little thought into their designs? Offset or keyed dowels could prevent parts from being attached incorrectly. There's only one way to put a jigsaw puzzle together. Why is flat-pack furniture so different?
Stuart Tyrrell, UK

The cost of incorporating electronics into furniture would not only add cost to the product, but would become an eyesore once the product had been assembled. One of the main problems with flat-pack furniture is in identifying each component. Simple peelable sticky labels would solve this, including step by step instructions on each major component. Perhaps then a simple key guided leaflet, video tape or even CD-Rom could be included. The latter could cover all products from the range, saving costs of producing individual discs for each product and also aid as a marketing tool.
Dr Simon Williams, United Kingdom


This brings a new meaning to "chip" board furniture

Nick Gray, UK
What about making the instructions smart, instead of the product? Make them legible, easy to understand, and why not include a copy on CD, with animations of any complex steps, handy tips, and even adverts of similar products too - a marketing person's dream.
Skip Bruce, UK

Yet another solution in search of a problem. Unfortunately this one is not even remotely appropriate technology for the problem. Often simpler is better; (NB Ikea, if you do adopt the idea, I'll have a set of furniture as royalty.) Colour coded removable stickers on the furniture components. Line up all the bits with the "A" stickers, insert and tighten screws where there is a red sticker, nail on a blue sticker etc. Repeat for "B" through to "Z" stickers. Peel off stickers. End of instructions.
Zaf, UK

This brings a new meaning to "chip" board furniture. What people really need is clearer instructions and higher precision cutting out of the parts so that hole A actually lines up with screw B.
Nick Gray, UK

Anybody who can't construct a piece of Ikea furniture using the paper instructions doesn't deserve to have the furniture. Surely microchips are a little extreme for such a simple process.
Steve,

Like screws, flat-packs will never have the correct number of sensors. Which means that the builder will be told he is either finished when he isn't or he will end up with extra bits for no clear reason. In other words, they won't change a thing.
Brian Pyle, USA

Will they be fitting the warehouses with smart enough chips to ensure that the stock levels are sufficient to ensure reasonable delivery times?
Steve Bushell, UK

See also:

08 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
24 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
26 Aug 02 | Business
23 Aug 02 | Breakfast
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