Perhaps it has happened to you: You’ve just plopped yourself down on a bench for a quick breather/people-watching session at your favorite park. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and all is right with the world. You’re happy, your keister is happy, the creepy dude licking at an ice cream cone on the bench across from you is happy. But when you retrieve your smartphone to capture this blissful summertime scene with a photo, you discover that it’s dead. Dead as a doornail. There will be no texting, Facebook-checking, Tinder-swipping, or photo-snapping for you. No, not today, dear park-goer.

But if you happen to be sitting at a park in Boston, however, that very bench you’ve planted yourself on could come to the rescue — by charging your device while you take a load off.

Dubbed the Soofa, these solar-powered benches — “urban hubs,” if you will — will be installed at a handful of high-traffic public parks across Beantown this month as part of a pilot program spearheaded by MIT Media Lab spinoff company Changing Environments, a Verizon Innovation Program Partner, and funded by Cisco Systems. Parks that will be graced with these new smaht benches include the Boston Common, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and Titus Sparrow Park in the South End according to the Boston Globe.

Additional parks in Boston and Cambridge might also soon see some Soofa action if the pilot goes well. And in a refreshingly democratic twist, city residents are encouraged to be part of the selection process and recommend which specific parks that they’d like to see one the new benches be installed at later this summer. Changing Environments is also looking to partner with colleges to help make the Soofa a fixture at campuses across the county.

“Your cellphone doesn’t just make phone calls, why should our benches just be seats?” proclaimed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in a statement last week. “We are fortunate to have talented entrepreneurs and makers in Boston thinking creatively about sustainability and the next generation of amenities for our residents.”

In addition to charging devices via dual USB ports, the multi-tasking, sensor-equipped benches will collect environmental data such as air quality and noise pollution along with statistics on how many butts have graced the bench over the course of the day. The data will be wirelessly transmitted to the Changing Environments team for analysis.

To many, this may all seem backwards: aren’t parks considered to be refuge from technology? Places where you can step away from the screen for a few moments? Places in which to unwind and unplug — not plug in?

Perhaps. But Changing Environments, a company with the mission is to “help cities, campuses, corporations and resorts to update their urban context for the mobile generation,” would beg to differ.

My main concern, aside from vandalism and inevitable damage, is that on a weekend or sunny afternoon it can be hard enough as is to find a dumb vacant park bench to sit on for a spell. The Soofa seems to encourage loitering and blatant bench bogarting. Chatting with a friend while you charge your iPhone on a park bench may not be all that pleasant if there's a half-dozen crazed, smartphone-clutching people circling around you like vultures waiting to claim your spot.

Also, the placement of the solar array and charging station takes up valuable seating space — the benches could easily be four-seaters if the design was somehow tweaked. But then again, this could have very well been intentional as it makes sprawling out for a nap rather difficult.

What do you think? Would you welcome a solar panel-clad, gadget-charging, data-collecting bench at your local park?

Via [Boston Globe]

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