Boston, June 27, 2014, –Some Boston area parks will be piloting a 21st Century bench upgrade through a partnership with the MIT Media Lab spin-off firm, Changing Environments. “Soofa,” as the bench is termed, is a solar-powered outdoor charging station that also collects and shares location-based information like air quality and noise level data. The high-tech benches will be deployed in green spaces in Boston over the next week, including in Titus Sparrow Park in the South End, the Boston Common, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Soofa debuted last week at the White House Maker Faire in Washington, D.C., where select innovators and entrepreneurs gathered to encourage robust development of new American ideas.
Sandra Richter(left) and Mayor Walsh talk about the Solar Bench.
“Your cell phone doesn’t just make phone calls, why should our benches just be seats?” said Mayor Walsh. “We are fortunate to have talented entrepreneurs and makers in Boston thinking creatively about sustainability and the next generation of amenities for our residents.”
The Soofa will provide more seating space and will be able to charge two phones at a time, building on the functionality of the first solar-powered seat by Changing Environments, which was successfully piloted in Boston in 2013 in a partnership between the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, the MIT Media Lab, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
“We’re delighted to continue the Greenway’s partnership with New Urban Mechanics and the MIT Media Lab,” said Jesse Brackenbury, Executive Director of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. “The Soofa will allow visitors and their phones to enjoy the sun on the Greenway.”
The City of Boston is asking residents to recommend one additional City of Boston park to install the Soofa. Residents are encouraged to go online and recommend a location at bit.ly/bosbench or tweet the location to @newurbanmechs by July 11.
In addition, the designers at Changing Environments are asking Bostonians to submit ideas for names of the Soofas in each park by July 11 through Twitter to @mysoofa or via the website, soofa.co. The winners will be invited to visit designers at the MIT Media Lab and see where it all started.
“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. “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.”
Soofas are also being piloted at Babson College and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Changing Environments Inc. is a Verizon Innovation Program partner and uses Verizon’s 4G LTE network to connect its benches wirelessly to the internet and upload location-based environmental information. The first units in Boston will be funded by Cisco Systems, a leader in development of smart city solutions, at no cost to the City.
Following on the tails of the Public Space Invitational, the partnership with Soofa is another project of the Streetscape Lab of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, which is exploring how to make Boston’s public spaces greener, smarter, and more awesome.