Soofa

The “Soofa” has two USB charging ports and tracks data on air quality, foot traffic, and radiation.

To charge your phone in public, you can mosey into a coffee shop and tap into an electrical outlet. Or, if you happen to live in a select few cities, you can find a Soofa bench and suck up some free, clean energy.

The forward-thinking furniture, debuted last year by engineers at the MIT Media Lab (who now run Changing Environments), looks like a regular bench with a Benihana griddle stuck in the middle. That’s actually a solar panel that channels electricity via USB ports. Two people can use it at once to charge phones, tablets, and other devices. Thanks to an energy-storage feature, it can also provide juice at night.

The bench’s name is not a riff of “sofa,” but a variant of the acronym for “smart urban furniture appliance,” according to Mashable, which explains:

The company aims to make the bench a kind urban watercooler for people to meet and refuel their devices before continuing with their day.

“There isn’t too much knowledge or perception around renewable energy these days because people are removed from it—it’s either on the roof or set aside somewhere that you don’t see it,” co-founder Sandra Richter told Mashable. “We wanted to change the way people see its immediate benefits by putting something out into public spaces.”

Aside from replenishing batteries, the Internet-enabled bench records stuff like ambient temperature, air quality, noise level, pedestrian traffic, and radiation. Municipal departments can access this data to presumably craft better public services and urban design. For instance, there’s talk that Cambridge—whose climate-action plan calls for reducing the urban heat island—might use Soofas to “identify where the heat islands are so that the city can concentrate its efforts in those targeted geographic areas.”

Changing Environments has rolled out nearly two-dozen Soofas in Cambridge and Boston and, with more than $1 million raised in venture capital this year, hopes to deploy others around the globe. Already, L.A. has announced plans for 15 benches as part of its Great Streets Initiative, and Soofas are appearing from Boulder to Miami to King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia. Footage from yet another in Essen, Germany, reveals the hidden feature of using the solar panel as a pillow—although your benchmate might smack you for obscuring the sunlight with your big head.

Soofa/Facebook

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: a pair of homes in Pittsburgh
    Equity

    The House Flippers of Pittsburgh Try a New Tactic

    As the city’s real estate market heats up, neighborhood groups say that cash investors use building code violations to encourage homeowners to sell.  

  2. Life

    The Cities Americans Want to Flee, and Where They Want to Go

    An Apartment List report reveals the cities apartment-hunters are targeting for their next move—and shows that tales of a California exodus may be overstated.

  3. Life

    Can Toyota Turn Its Utopian Ideal Into a 'Real City'?

    The automaker-turned-mobility-company announced last week it wants to build a living, breathing urban laboratory from the ground up in Japan.

  4. Design

    Long Before Levittown, Brooklyn Boasted Mass-Produced Housing

    The small community of Gerritsen Beach was a pioneering cookie-cutter suburb in the 1920s.

  5. A woman, forced into the street by blocked sidewalks, pushes a stroller down a street in Boston.
    Perspective

    Why Cities, Not Individuals, Should Clear Snow From Sidewalks

    Most U.S. cities leave the responsibility of sidewalk snow removal to homeowners, landlords, and businesses. The result: endangered pedestrians.

×