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Boston parks get solar-powered mobile charging benches

30 June 2014, 9:50 am EDT By Lori Sandoval Tech Times
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A unique, high-tech bench upgrade called Soofa is about to be seen at Boston area parks that would provide solar-powered charging stations starting this week.

Changing Environments, a spin-off company of the MIT Media Lab, developed Soofa, the first unit of which was launched in Boston in 2013, in collaboration with Rose Kennedy Greenway and Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Cisco Systems will subsidize the incoming units in the city.

“Your cell phone doesn’t just make phone calls, why should our benches just be seats?” Boston Mayor Martin Walsh says in a statement. “We are fortunate to have talented entrepreneurs and makers in Boston thinking creatively about sustainability and the next generation of amenities for our residents.”

“Soofa is the first step into Smart Urban Furniture. The possibilities to update the city for the mobile generation are endless and long overdue,” the startup’s co-founder and CEO Sandra Richter says in a statement. “So are more female-lead startups which is why we hope to be a roll-model for women all over the world to found cool companies like Nan Zhao, Jutta Friedrichs and I did.”

The public can charge two mobile phones at one time, but they will need to bring their own charging cords. It has a solar panel and two ports for USB connection. Soofa also offers more spaces for seating.

“We’re delighted to continue the Greenway's partnership with New Urban Mechanics and the MIT Media Lab,” Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy’s executive director Jesse Brackenbury says in a statement. “The Soofa will allow visitors and their phones to enjoy the sun on the Greenway.”

Besides solar-power charging, the revolutionary bench will also collect and share location-based data on noise levels and air quality, among others. It will be positioned in parks such as Boston Common, Rose Kennedy Greenway and Sparrow Park.

Soofas were also introduced to the White House Maker Faire in Washington, D.C. just recently, and are also being rolled out at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Babson College.

The city government of Boston is asking its residents to suggest one more additional park where it can install Soofa. They can suggest locations at bit.ly/bosbench or through Twitter account @newurbanmechs on July 11.

The Changing Environments’ designers are likewise requesting Boston residents to come up with name suggestions for the Soofas and submit these to Twitter account @mysoofa or through the soofa.co, the official website of the bench project. Winners will receive an invite to pay MIT Media Lab as well as its designers a visit, fortunately getting a peak of where and how the bench project began.

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