Solar-powered park benches to track passersby

Boston installs smart benches that charge phones, monitor pollution and count kids
Boston's snooping solar benches

A golden rule of technology is that everything seems creepier if you install it in a children's playground.

Take Soofa's solar-powered benches, now being installed in parks in Boston, for example. They use built-in photovoltaic panels to provide free charging points for smartphones and other gadgets, and to power weather and air quality sensors. So far, so cool. 

But they also track how many people are using the service, monitor 'noise levels' with a microphone, and count passersby. 

Careful ladies, we're measuring how loudly you laugh

Prototype Soofa smart bench in Boston

The solar-powered smart benches are made by Soofa, a spin-off from MIT, and funded by networking giant Cisco and mobile operator Verizon. The benches use Verizon’s 4G LTE network to connect wirelessly to the internet and upload location-based environmental information. 

"Your cell phone doesn’t just make phone calls, why should our benches just be seats?” said Mayor Walsh. Perhaps because people just want to sit down and enjoy the sunshine without feeling weirded out by urban furniture. 

After Boston, Soofa plans to expand its network of park benches to build a smart energy infrastructure that also collects urban data. There's no saying when this might rock up in Malaysia. 

READ MORE: Through the PRISM – how to disappear online

[Boston Globe]