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Solar-powered smart park benches charge your gear

Some benches in Boston parks offer more than a place to sit. They also charge your gadgets, track noise levels, and watch the weather.

Soofa benches are gadget-charging buddies. Changing Environements

Park benches are usually pretty passive objects. You sit on them to read the paper or watch your kids on the playground. Changing Environments, a spin-off company from the MIT Media Lab, thinks benches should do a lot more than just sit around.

The Soofa is a solar-powered bench that can be used to charge small gadgets via USB. That's not the outdoor furniture's only trick. Each bench also acts as a data hub, collecting information on noise levels and air quality. That data will be accessible online, so you can check to see if it's sunny, cool, quiet, or loud at your favorite park bench location.

The first benches are being installed in Boston and Cambridge, Mass., though the live data feed isn't up and running for them quite yet. When it goes live, Web visitors to the Soofa site will be able to see how many people have used the bench for charging, the average number of daily visitors, the hours of solar charging provided, and information on the environment around it.

"We want to reactivate the city and create a new shared social experience," says Jutta Friedrichs, co-founder of Changing Environments. "Computers took people off the streets. 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 company envisions a widespread network of Soofas that will encourage the tech crowd to spend more time outside while also keeping city dwellers better informed about their environment. The pilot installations in Boston are funded by Cisco Systems at no cost to the city.

Have a seat. Charge your phone. Check the weather. Changing Environments

(Via Boston Globe)