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Jul. 18, 2014

Boston’s Parks Get Greener with High-Tech Solar-Powered Benches

By Veronica Grecu, Associate Editor

Since last year Boston was named the Number 1 Digital City in the country for its best practices in communication technology and public-sector information, it only made sense for the Hub to continue investing in innovation and energy efficiency and become more connected with its residents.

Soofa smart bench designers: Jutta Friedrichs, Sandra Richter and Nan Zhao

Soofa smart bench designers: Jutta Friedrichs, Sandra Richter and Nan Zhao

Boston’s most recent green initiative is a public-private partnership between the Streetscape Lab of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and the MIT Media Lab spin-off Changing Environments, a Verizon Innovation Program partner that uses Verizon’s 4G LTE network to connect wirelessly to the internet. According to city officials, several parks and public space in and around Boston will get new benches—not the regular wood benches, but “smart urban furniture” with built-in solar panels and charging points for smartphones.

Dubbed “Soofas,” the solar-powered benches were created by three women—marketing specialist Sandra Richter, electrical engineer Nan Zhao, and designer Jutta Friedrichs—all of whom come from Germany, where solar energy is highly popular. First unveiled at the White House Maker Faire in Washington, D.C., last month, the smart benches will be installed at Boston Common (the oldest park in the country), at Titus Sparrow Park in the city’s South End section, and along the Rose Kennedy Greenway. According to Mashable, six high-tech benches have already been installed in Boston since June 25 and four more are scheduled to be added in the following weeks. Changing Environments has already built around 100 smart benches and plans to create more if they prove to be successful for the city.

Soofa smart bench designer Nan Zhao

Soofa smart bench designer Nan Zhao

Thanks to the encased solar panels and computer, the high-tech benches will provide Bostonians enough solar energy to charge their smartphones and other electronic devices in parks, at playgrounds and even around sports fields. These charging stations will also collect and share location-based information such as air quality and noise level data.

Envisioned as magnets that invite people to enjoy outdoors while reading the news or catching up on an email without fear of running out of power, the “Soofas” are expected to reactivate the city and create a new shared social experience. To make this green initiative even more interactive, the three designers  of Changing Environments have invited Bostonians to go online and recommend a location for a solar-powered bench.

“Soofa is the first step into Smart Urban Furniture. The possibilities to update the city for the mobile generation are endless and long overdue,” said Sandra Richter, co-founder and CEO of the young startup.

Images via Soofa

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