College Park’s Solar-Powered Charging Station

Soofa solar powered bench Lake Artemesia

If you need to charge your phone at Lake Artemesia, you’re in luck.

The nature park in College Park and Berwyn Heights has a free charging station for cell phones and tablets on its northern end, although you might have biked right past it without knowing.

Installed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Soofa charging station is powered by a solar panel on the top, and has a battery inside to allow for charging during evening hours and overcast days. You can get power through two USB ports in the front, though you’ll need to bring your own cord.

The benches were designed by engineers at the MIT Media Lab, who named them as a variation on the acronym for “smart urban furniture appliance.”

“There isn’t too much knowledge or perception around renewable energy these days because people are removed from it—it’s either on the roof or set aside somewhere that you don’t see it,” co-founder Sandra Richter told Mashable. “We wanted to change the way people see its immediate benefits by putting something out into public spaces.”

The benches aren’t just charging batteries, either. They’re also recording information such as ambient temperature, air quality, noise level, pedestrian traffic and radiation, which local governments can use to track issues in the area.

Other Soofa benches have been approved for spots in Oxon Hill, Upper Marlboro, Walker Mill, the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex and the College Park Airport Operations Building.

The base model bench costs about $3,800, compared to a standard city bench, which can cost between $2,000 and $3,000 and lasts about 10 years.

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