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"Soofa" Benches Supply
Solar Power On The Go

Park benches with built in solar panels that can charge smartphones and download environmental data, known as "Soofas," have been installed in green spaces around Boston and Cambridge.

Three female innovators created the solar-powered "Soofas," and founded a start-up called Changing Environment in the process, a spin-off from the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"We want to reactivate the city and create a new shared social experience. Computers took people off the streets," said Jutta Friedrichs, co-founder and designer of the benches. "We envision Soofas acting as magnets that invite people to enjoy the outdoors while reading the news, sharing a video, or catching up on email without fear of running out of power."

The Soofas are distinguished by a simple charging station, which uses solar power to charge up to two smartphones at a time. The first dozen Soofas have been installed throughout Boston, at locales like Titus Sparrow Park in the South End, the Boston Common and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The benches were installed in partnership with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh's office of New Urban Mechanics, and are funded by Cisco at no cost to the city.

The benches also connect to Verizon's 4G LTE wireless network, and collect data on the environment and noise levels. Visitors to will be able to see the metrics, including how frequently each Soofa is used, its environment and the number of hours of solar power provided.

"Soofa is the first step into smart urban furniture," said Sandra Richter, co-founder and CEO of the young startup. "The possibilities to update the city for the mobile generation are endless and long overdue." The city of Boston is asking residents to recommend one additional park to install the Soofa, and Richter said Changing Environment is in talks to bring the Soofa to other cities around the United States.

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October 17, 2019, 9:28 pm PDT

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