The Bench of the Future Could Charge Your Smartphone
The team behind the Soofa –– Jutta Friedrichs, Sandra Richter, and Nan Zhao –– pose with their creation. (Soofa)
The old familiar park bench is great for relaxing. Soon, it could also be great for energizing — your smartphone, that is.
At the White House’s first ever Maker Faire on Wednesday, the startup Changing Environments will show off the Soofa, a bench that can charge your cellphone using the solar power it collects throughout the day. The Soofa, an play on “smart urban furniture,” features a visible solar panel, a battery, and two USB slots, where bench-sitters and the desperately underpowered alike can plug in their smartphones and other devices.
“We want to make cities updated for our generation,” Sandra Richter, one of the three inventors of the Soofa, said in an interview with Yahoo Tech. “One trait we have is we run around with our phones all the time, and they die every five minutes. So for us it’s really important to be charged up all the time and be connected to each other.”
The Soofa isn’t just about phone charging: It also contains noise and air sensors embedded in the bench’s “brain.” Those sensors constantly collect data and beam it over Verizon’s 4G network to Soofa’s website, which will let people know where there is an available bench, in a quiet location, with fresh air.
A screenshot of the map on Soofa.co, which shows benches around Boston and the data around them, too. (Soofa.co)
The first dozen benches will be installed around Boston this month; prototypes had dotted the Boston landscape this winter. Boston residents will be able to find free benches on an interactive map at Soofa.co. Clicking on a bench brings up information about the temperature, noise, air pollution level, and recent foot traffic around the location, as well as whether a charging port is available.
For now, it’s BYO cable if you want to juice up your phone. Future versions of the Soofa, Richter said, will have inductive charging, or the ability to place your device on a surface and have it power up, no cord required. (Starbucks recently began installing inductive charging mats made by Duracell at its stores around the country.)
The Soofa isn’t only novel in concept; the team behind it is also unique in the tech sphere for its makeup. Changing Environments consists of three women, all from the Boston area: Richter, a visiting scientist at MIT’s Media Lab; Nan Zhao, a Ph.D. candidate at MIT’s Media Lab; and Jutta Friedrichs, who graduated with a master’s in art, design, and the public domain from Harvard. Richter and Zhao met at the Media Lab and recruited Friedrichs, “a friend of a friend,” Richter said, to design the bench and make it visually appealing.