Boston’s Futuristic ‘Smart’ Benches Can Juice Up Your Phone
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Boston’s Futuristic ‘Smart’ Benches Can Juice Up Your Phone


You’ve heard so much about the Internet of Things, but Bostonians are able to sit on a tangible example of it. The Soofa is a park bench with a solar-powered charging station for mobile devices. Besides providing USB ports that allow users to juice up their phones, the benches collect location-based data, including hours of solar charging, air quality and noise levels, before using Verizon technology to wirelessly transmit it to Soofa’s site.

The benches made their debut at the White House’s first ever Maker Faire in June, and six of them have now been installed around Boston, with four more scheduled to be in place by next week. Requests for them are piling up.

“Your cell phone doesn’t just make calls,” Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement. “Why should our benches just be seats?”

Related: Supreme Court Says Your Cellphone Has the Right to Remain Private

The benches were created by Sandra Richter, Nan Zhao and Jutta Friedrichs or Changing Environment, a startup that was spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab.

Networking giant Cisco Systems has funded the first Soofa installations. Early reports said each Soofa costs $3,000, but Richter explained that figure is low since it covers materials and not labor.

The Soofa is the most recent Boston experiment using smart technology in public places. The city also has smart trash receptacles with on-site compaction and the ability to report collection data. The city has started to implement sensors that provide real-time parking metrics and data about space availability.

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After the installation of four more Soofa benches in Boston, Richter and her team plan to take a temporary break to iron out the business side of their startup, which they say has been inundated with requests for Soofas from municipalities across the country.

If there was any concern over people’s acclimation to using a Soofa, one of Richter’s first experiences with the benches in public put it to rest.

As she and her team finished installing one bench in a Boston park recently, they began working on another nearby. The first time she turned around, she noticed that a woman — without any instructions or prompting — had sat down and was charging her phone. As she told Richter, everyone recognizes a USB port.                                 

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