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Boston trying out solar-powered ‘smart benches’ in parks

A solar-powered “Soofa” bench (at left) has been installed in Titus Sparrow Park in the South End.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

We’ve all heard about smartphones. Now there are smart benches.

That is the idea behind a new Boston initiative which will bring “Soofas,” solar-powered benches, to the city.

The benches, to be located in various parks, will allow residents to take a load off their feet — while plugging in and recharging their cellphones.

“Your cellphone doesn’t just make phone calls, why should our benches just be seats?” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement Friday.

The high-tech benches were invented by MIT Media Lab spinoff Changing Environments, a Verizon Innovation Program.

The benches also connect wirelessly, using Verizon’s network, to the Internet to upload location-based environmental information, such as air quality and noise-level data. City officials said the first units in Boston will be funded by Cisco Systems, a leader in development of smart city solutions, at no cost to the city.


Over the next week, as part of the new pilot effort, the benches will be located at several city parks, including Titus Sparrow Park in the South End, the Boston Common, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

“We are fortunate to have talented entrepreneurs and makers in Boston thinking creatively about sustainability and the next generation of amenities for our residents,’’ Walsh said.

The benches made their debut last week at a meeting of innovators and entrepreneurs at the White House.

City officials are asking residents to recommend additional parks to install Soofas, by logging online to bit.ly/bosbench or tweeting the location to @newurbanmechs. Residents can also submit ideas for names of the Soofas in each park through Twitter to @mysoofa or via the website, soofa.co.

Both submissions must be done by July 11.

Sandra Richter, co-founder and CEO of Soofa, and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.Handout