Science & technology
The bench that charges your smartphone
Publish Date: Jul 01, 2014
The bench that charges your smartphone
So far, two Soofas have been placed in Boston Common and two in Titus Sparrow Park. Several more will be added in Boston and Cambridge in coming weeks. Photo/City of Boston
  • mail
  • img
newvision

BOSTON has started installing park benches that double as electronic device charging stations.

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

The multitasking benches, dubbed Soofas, have USB ports in which park dwellers can plug in their devices. The seats also connect wirelessly to the Internet to upload local environmental data such as air quality and noise levels, as well as information on how much energy is being generated.

So far, two Soofas have been placed in Boston Common and two in Titus Sparrow Park. Several more will be added in Boston and Cambridge in coming weeks.

Soofas are the creation of Changing Environments, an MIT Media Lab spin-out co-founded by three women in their early thirties—a designer, an electrical engineer, and a marketing expert.

“We’re all from Germany, where solar energy is very popular,” says Sandra Richer, the startup’s co-founder and chief executive. “We were thinking about how can we change public opinion to accept more solar … and start a dialogue about air quality in cities and renewable energy.” Verizon (VZ) is providing the group with technical support, and Cisco Systems (CSCO) paid for Boston’s first benches.

The smart seats are already gaining traction. “We average between 12 and 20 people using the benches per day,” Richter says.

On Sunday, she notes, “there was what we think was probably a couple because there were two people charging from 5:30 to 7:30 in the morning.”

Changing Environments plans to make all the Soofa data publicly available once it improves its real-time data map. The group is also hoping to speed up production and develop more advanced versions of the bench.

“This is a small, three-girl operation right now,” says Richter. “We’ve gotten a lot of calls already from cities and people asking, ‘When do we get our Soofa for our city or boardwalk?’”

Public access USB ports do present some unique problems. When New York inaugurated charging stations last year, experts warned that hackers might implant tiny computers to infect phones with viruses that could steal banking information, e-mail passwords, and perhaps even track the movement of phone owners.

Richter says Soofas, made from concrete, sheet metal, and wood, won’t be vulnerable to such attacks.

“The concrete boxes are screwed with security screws and only we have the actual bits to open them,” she says. “If one were to take an ax and hammer to one, the electronics would be useless.”

To make money, Changing Environments plans to charge a setup and monthly subscription fee or charge people, organizations, and companies to have their names and brands featured on subtle bench plaques.

The startup has yet to determine its pricing. Another option, says Richter, would be to use motion sensors on the Soofas to collect data for companies, allowing them to better gauge how many passersby are in the area.

“So if they have a billboard in the area, for example,” Richter says, “they’ll know how many people are likely to see it.”

The statements, comments, or opinions expressed through the use of New Vision Online are those of their respective authors, who are solely responsible for them, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff and management of New Vision Online.

New Vision Online reserves the right to moderate, publish or delete a post without warning or consultation with the author.Find out why we moderate comments. For any questions please contact digital@newvision.co.ug

  • mail
  • img
blog comments powered by Disqus
Also In This Section
European lawmakers back Google break-up
The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly for the break-up of Google on Thursday in a largely symbolic vote that nevertheless cast another blow in the four-year standoff between Brussels and the US Internet giant....
DNA may survive trip to suborbital space and back
DNA molecules attached to the outside of a rocket may be able survive a trip to suborbital space and back into the Earth's atmosphere at extremely high temperatures, according to a new study....
E-cigarettes have 10 times carcinogens: Japan researchers
E-cigarettes contain up to 10 times the amount of cancer-causing agents as regular tobacco, Japanese scientists said Thursday, the latest blow to an invention once heralded as less harmful than smoking....
Twitter takes note of other apps on smartphones
Twitter on Wednesday said it would begin tracking which other applications people have installed on their mobile devices in a bid to better target ads and content....
BlackBerry courts iPhone users with cash
Canadian smartphone maker BlackBerry is wooing Apple customers with a cash offer for trade-ins of iPhones for its new square-screened, keyboard-equipped Passport....
Spotify turns up volume as losses fall
The world's biggest music streaming service, Spotify, announced Tuesday its revenue grew by 74 percent in 2013 while net losses shrank by one third, in a year of spectacular expansion....
Should Govt lease parts of Lake Victoria to private developers?
Its Ok
No Way
Not Sure
follow us
subscribe to our news letter