Boston is installing solar powered ''smart'' benches in its public spaces. The design team behind the ''Soofa'' say it's the bench of the future, giving park goers a comfortable seating area that doubles as a mobile phone charger. Sharon Reich has more.
STORY: Mark Woods is getting a little pick me up in the park - for his phone that is. He's just plugged into the Soofa - a bench that can charge any device with a USB cable. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARK WOODS, CALIFORNIA RESIDENT, SAYING: "I think that having a space that is solar powered, which is great for green energy, is really the wave of the future in terms of cities providing services to people." Mark's not the only one recharging his battery. A dozen of the charging stations are in Boston parks this summer as part of a city-wide pilot program to designed gauge how people react to high tech seating areas. The creators of the bench Jutta Friedrichs, Sandra Richter and Nan Zhao of Changing Environments, say the Soofa is keeping people connected in more ways than one -- it's a new social space that eliminates some of the barriers created by the digital divide. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JUTTA FRIEDRICHS, CO-FOUNDER OF CHANGING ENVIRONMENTS CREATORS OF THE SOOFA, SAYING: "People share benches all the time, there's an opportunity for small talk, to meet each other especially when you plug in. it's almost like a new water cooler." Only this one can give you juice and plenty of it. The 30 watt solar panel stores enough energy to fully power about 20 cell phones. And besides charging devices, the bench is intended to become an infrastructure hub that also provides data to researchers and city planners as well. (SOUNDBITE) (English) NAN ZHAO, CO-FOUNDER OF CHANGING ENVIRONMENTS CREATORS OF THE SOOFA, SAYING: "Our benches are actually connected to the Internet using 4G LTE and they are uploading data about how many people are using and how much sun power we are collecting to our server. In the future we are thinking of also implementing other sensors depending on what the needs of the areas are." The team says the project has been so successful they're planning to roll Soofa out to other cities, giving people a place to take a load off while keeping their phones on.