It’s a beautiful day outside and you want to just sit on a bench, marvel at nature and post on social media how wonderful it is to be not inside the four corners of your office or school. But alas, your mobile phone doesn’t have enough juice anymore to take a picture and post it on Instagram (#smartphonebatteryproblems). A project from Changing Environments, a company associated with the MIT Media Lab will help you avoid that kind of situation by building solar-powered benches that can charge your gadgets.
Called Soofa, the benches will be equipped with USB ports that can be used by benchwarmers to power their phones or tablets as they read a newspaper or book, whether physically or digitally. The first few benches will be installed in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is funded by Cisco Systems. But the company is looking at building a network of Soofas all over the state not just for the convenience of passers-by in need of a quick charging fix, but even more so, to encourage people to at least go outside, even while glued to their gadgets.
More than just a charging station, the benches will also become data hubs, to check on the noise and air quality levels of the places where they’re installed. People will be able to access the data online when they visit the Soofa website, so they know where is the perfect spot to enjoy a few minutes of quiet, away from the crowds and the pollution. Other data that will be gathered would be how many people go to each bench everyday and how many hours of solar power charging it was able to provide that day.
According to Jutta Friedrichs, the co-founder of Changing Environments, they are looking at reversing the idea that computers “took people off the streets” and now using technology to actually make people come outside and play. “We want to reactivate the city and create a new shared social experience,” she said.