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The Future of Furniture

The Future of Furniture

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

Jessica BanksFounder

Jessica Banks is the CEO and Founder of RockPaperRobot. The MIT-trained roboticist also used to be Al Franken’s personal assistant.  

Employees

3

Founded

2014

LOCATION

Brooklyn, NY

Industry

Kinetic Furniture

Social

Something never made sense to Jessica Banks. Call it the Robot on the Couch dilemma. How was it, she wondered, that humans were able to use their intelligence to create complex machines, yet something as basic as living room seating had not significantly evolved since the invention of the sofa? It was, she decided, time to move design—one of her passions—up a little higher on the tech scales. “Why would an android have to sit on that couch?” asks Banks, CEO and Founder of RockPaperRobot.

Her two-year-old company is an engineering boutique specializing in the innovation and fabrication of kinetic furniture, lighting and wearables. That means everything from melting chandeliers to computer-controlled storage systems to more affordable items such as floating vases. And because Banks is an artist as much as she is a tech innovator, it also means sleek design. While much of the credit goes to her innovative thinking, it is supported by eight years studying robotics at MIT, exceptionally keen (more than 20/20) vision that allows her to see the world in hyper-detail and a creative sensibility that demands thinking outside of non-levitating boxes.

Here, Banks on how (and why) she combined a love of design and science into a brand—and how that vision has the potential to improve all of our lives.

Funding Circle

RockPaperRobot is a kinetic furniture company. What does that mean?

Jessica Banks

We make furniture that moves. It can be anything from high-end functional art to more mass-produced responsive and reaction furniture. Examples of functional art are passive levitating tables that require a person to make it move to fully automated pieces that can respond and react to real time data and adjust their positions to fulfill the most optimal scenario.

Funding Circle

What led to a company based on that idea?

Jessica Banks

I’m trained as a roboticist and wanted to apply my acumen to acceptable things—and to me, furniture was a great outlet for that.

I had kinda formed a company and put things out in the world in 2010. But it wasn’t a real company. We were guessing what to do—we just wanted to make cool stuff. Today, the business approach is much more fine-tuned.
In 2013, I met someone who ended up becoming one of my investors. She was enthusiastic about the idea and that helped to form it. I also wanted a company because I didn’t know anyone else doing what I wanted to do…and I don’t like to work for other people.

Funding Circle

What was the first piece that you created?


Jessica Banks

Our levitating table. It’s really quite simple and based on repelling magnets. They are embedded in wooden cubes and all of the adjacent cubes are connected through a series of steel cables. This cable situation keeps the magnets from flying apart, so everything stays in equilibrium.

Funding Circle

It seems there is a growing market for things that merge technology and future thinking with home design and furniture. Why do you think there’s an increased interest in that?

Jessica Banks

I almost think that question is a little late. We hear people talk about the Internet of things and I’m like, duh. There is more technology, it is basically our modern day tool which makes things, elements and components of this world, more accessible. Of course we’re going to start integrating them into our objects. It is an obvious evolution. Our interests and perspectives widen to incorporate all of our knowledge and tools.

Funding Circle

How is RockPaperRobot evolving as a company?

Jessica Banks

We want to be setting the standards for responsive and interactive furniture, or at least leading that front. Imagine your chair and table that are beautiful objects you own but imagine they could work together to prevent you from having eyestrain or back pain. Or they could be predictive and use the information from real time sensors embedded in the surfaces in the actual object, as well as quantified self data that’s been collected, and from that, they could be able to say, okay, this is the best position for you at this given moment. Imagine your desk could call 911 if for some reason you’re having a stroke and the desk can understand it.

One of the biggest areas for this kind of thinking is sleep. We’re looking at how to cater to that whole environment—moving the bed, temperature, sound, everything to potentially cater the experience of sleep for both near- and far-term results.

Funding Circle

What has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur?

Jessica Banks

The parts of my personality that are the strongest are also not the best CEO characteristics. The fact that I’m an artist means I’m like, ooh that’s pretty, that’s going to be cool, let’s try this. Or, oooh shiny things. And then the part of me that is an engineer is super meticulous. I have a hard time seeing the middle, so I flip black and forth between the extremes. The other part is I’m an inventor and constantly thinking about different solutions to problems in many many fields, not just furniture. To have a company you have to focus on one product until you have the resources and bandwidth to be more parallel with product.

Funding Circle

What’s the best part, most exciting?

Jessica Banks

There’s a lot of freedom. When I was learning Spanish I could feel my brain change. You learn a new language, you see how it seeps into your world and your perspective. Even your dreams. And I feel the language of business, not just in the words we use, but the mentality of business, seeping into my life as if I’m learning a new language. It’s really interesting to see my brain adapt to all of this new information, some of which is very concrete about sales strategies or competitive analysis. It also can be in a social way, how is it to present yourself, what’s the psychology of sales and of selling—not just the product but also yourself.

Funding Circle

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