It seems to be a popular playground for creative IT specialists and engineers: Smart devices, mainly intended for the urban realms, can’t feature enough technical gimmicks if things go the way the creators want. A couple of inventions remain theory or prototypes at the best. In the case of Soofa, it is a different story. In recent years, the so-called Soofa Bench popped up in Canada, Germany, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia and numerous cities in the USA.
Soofa started with 10 smart benches in Boston in 2014
Together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the US startup Soofa developed this smart bench equipped with photovoltaic panels and the ability to charge smart phones. With two USB ports, it is possible to charge a wide range of smart phones or tablet computers. In order to shorten the charging time, an included Wi-Fi connection enables to surf the internet. Founded and controlled by women, the first Soofa Benches appeared on the MIT campus and in the vicinity of Cambridge and Boston.
— MIT Alumni (@MIT_alumni) 27. January 2017
“The idea is to bring simple technologies to the streets,” says CEO Sandra Richter, a former Media Lab researcher who co-founded the startup with Nan Zhao, a Media Lab PhD student, and Jutta Friedrichs, a Harvard University graduate. “When it comes to smart cities, there’s been a lot of talking, but not a lot of doing. If you don’t want this [smart city] concept to die, you need to bring real-world examples to the places where we live, work, and play.”
The team of the MIT spinout doesn’t rest on its laurels. Soofa Sign is their second solar-powered product. It diverse information, such as weather forecasts, programs of events or timetables of subway lines. Integrated sensors collect pedestrian traffic data for cities, allegedly to plan city developments, events, and other initiatives concerning the public.
“And what is better than a park bench?” Richter says. “It’s something we have all around the globe, has existed for centuries, and is a place for people to connect with each other. For us, that was the ideal platform to start introducing sensors into the public environment.”