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Boston city park bench with addition of a shiny, new solar-powered charging station. (via Boston Globe)

It's all the rage - single function devices are being updated to accommodate multi-functional needs. Imagine a bench; it's just sitting there, accommodating workers during the lunch hour, giving rest to the homeless, and/or providing a pulpit for  intellectual conversations. That’s so yesterday!  Now, park benches are getting a 'smart' upgrade with solar cell- powered phone charging and wireless capabilities that offer local, environmental information.


For the time being the Smart benches will only be available to select public parks in Boston, made possible by funding from Cisco. The Smart benches are going to be placed in Titus Sparrow Park, Boston Common, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Boston residents are encouraged to recommend their local park as a candidate for these solar-powered benches, a.k.a. “soofas.”


This technology was created by Changing Environments, an MIT Media Lab spin off, sponsored by the Verizon Innovation Program.


While the technology itself isn’t groundbreaking, the impact these benches have on the community could prove interesting. It seems that Changing Environments is seeing how technology can change natural, public locations, which, in turn, changes the community.


Possibly, forgotten city parks can gain new life via the addition of these solar- powered cells. The phone charging stations also have wireless capabilities via the Verizon network, which is being severely underutilized by simply offering stats on the local environment. But, who knows, maybe they will offer free WiFi in the coming months or years.


Perhaps future  versions of the city bench software will include a community board and regional updates. Considering the recent fire in Mission Hill on June 30th, which rang terrorist alarm bells among some witnesses, a community forum could be interesting and useful.


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