It’s been a while since I’ve done a post about a new smart gadget. It’s not because they’re not emerging in droves—they most definitely are—but I find myself getting desensitized to smart news. If everything’s smart these days, then doesn’t the word and quality lose some of its meaning? Regardless, this one caught my eye because hey, I live in the city where these nifty solar-powered, phone-charging smart benches can now be found.
Changing Environments, which is unsurprisingly an offspring of MIT’s Media Lab, is the brains behind the “soofa” bench. The company consists of three women, a Harvard-educated designer, an MIT Media Lab-affiliated marketing professional, and an electrical engineering and IT student.
Ads for the bench cleverly point out that residents can charge their phones while they recharge themselves by taking a load off. The devices monitor the amount of sunlight collected and the usage of the soofas, which companies can purchase. They also harvest information about the surrounding environment, specifically air quality, noise, and pedestrians so owners can gauge whether the soofa is in the best spot (or whether the real estate is just too valuable for a soofa). They upload all of that information wirelessly via Verizon. And you can check online to see if a specific bench is available.
Six benches were installed in July, with four more coming. Right now, there are three soofas in Boston gathering information and that can be accessed online. Two are in the Boston Commons, and according to soofa’s website average 17 and 19 visitors a day, respectively, and have provided 5 and 6 hours of solar charging powers today. It’s cool to look at the metrics; it’s clear that the amount of solar power collected, as well as the charging power provided dips during poor weather and spikes during sunny days. Soon, weather, noise, air quality, and foot traffic metrics will also be available on the site. There’s no information available for the soofa in South End’s Titus Sparrow Park, or for the two at Babson College, but my guess is that it’ll be up soon. There should be more soofa’s soon. New Urban Mechanics, which helps provide services to Boston residents, recently took suggestions via Twitter with regards to future soofa locations.
Boston mayor Marty Walsh and President Obama have both lauded these smart benches. As long as they don’t drive up rental prices, I’m more than happy to skip the conventional wrought iron benches for this upgrade.