If you’ve spent some time in the Seaholm EcoDistrict, you might have noticed some new benches in the area. At first glance, it may seem like any regular bench, but don’t be fooled. This is no ordinary piece of furniture. It’s a Soofa Bench.
What is a Soofa Bench?
Soofa Benches are “smart benches” designed by three graduate students from the MIT Media Lab and the Harvard Innovation Lab. The benches use solar panels to charge mobile devices, such as phone and tablets. Soofa benches can also sense the environment around them. They’re outfitted with a variety of sensors to collect data from air quality, sunlight, and use by the community.
Why a “smart bench”?
As Boston Mayor Walsh said, “your cell phone doesn’t just make phone calls, why should our benches just be seats?” Smart furniture, like the Soofa bench, has the potential to transform parts of urban landscapes into an automated source of information.
“If it’s going to be worth it for cities to put something like this out in the urban landscape," said Jason Zogg, a program manager at the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, "it has to offer more than just a charging station for phones." In the future, they have to offer useful data, too.
For example, if Zogg is trying to attract a grocery store or pharmacy to a neighborhood that doesn't have one yet, he might be able to pique a company's interest with free, easily accessible pedestrian foot traffic counts he's collected through the benches. Cities will have the option to add a feature that allows the benches to identify the unique WiFi or Bluetooth signals from nearby cell phones*, giving city planners some idea of how many people pass by the benches.
*Benches will not collect personal data, such as identifying who is using the phones.
Where can I find it?
Currently, you can only find the Austin benches in the Seaholm EcoDistrict. Austin is one of the handful cities in Soofa’s “early adopter” program. Other cities include: Boston, Jersey City and Boulder.
Visit www.soofa.co/getsoofa to learn more.