Smart and solar-powered: the urban benches of the future
From simple urban furniture to high-tech multifunctional devices. The smart benches of the future will offer a wide range of services and will use solar power
Published on 2 April 2020
In the cities of future, everything will be connected, and even something as simple as a park bench will be a smart object capable of providing a broad range of services.
Indeed, growing numbers of local authorities are already using urban furniture to offer new services by integrating a wide range of functionalities in a single item to improve citizens’ quality of life. Street lamps, benches, information boards and shelters for public transport and in car parks and even vehicles and bikes themselves can incorporate sensors to gather real-time information about the surrounding environment. Additional services can also be integrated: microgeneration of distributed renewable energy, digital public billboards (including for advertising purposes), lighting, public Wi-Fi, defibrillators.
The distribution of connected devices that can respond to external input in real time also lays the foundations for a whole new way of living or discovering the city, for residents and tourists alike. The city will be increasingly able to communicate, distribute information on request, and receive feedback on malfunctions or suggestions on improving a particular service. Smart benches are an excellent example of how integrating with digital technologies makes our cities not only more attractive but also more efficient, resilient, sustainable and safer.
The most advanced smart benches are multi-functional high-tech objects complete with photovoltaic cells in their seats which allows them to work off-grid. As a result, all their functionalities are powered by solar energy, which itself has at least three major advantages: no modifications are required to the infrastructure in the public areas in which the benches are located, municipal authorities can offer new services without incurring extra energy costs and the benches only use renewable energy.
Smart benches provide users with a wide array of services, the most important of which is connectivity. They allow users to connect to the web via Wi-Fi hotspots and to hook up their smartphones, tablets and other devices to USB ports to charge their batteries.
The benches can also be integrated with sensors to monitor air quality, LCD screens for advertising or to provide service information, multiservice LED night light columns with USB ports. This is for recharging electronic devices and cases for AED automatic defibrillators for emergency situations, such as in public parks or on cycle lanes. Users can help make these services more efficient by employing their electronic devices to alert the authorities to public lighting malfunctions, for instance, through specific apps or to provide other kinds of feedback.
New generation smart benches are a mix of captivating design and materials resistant to weather and variations in temperatures which make them suitable for use both outdoors and indoors. Thanks to their flexible, modular and scalable designs, smart benches can be integrated with an endless variety of other urban infrastructural items from electric bike racks with integrated mini charging stations, to automated video surveillance systems at bus stops, in stations and other sensitive areas, to help make the city as safe as possible.
Thanks to all of these technologies, many cities around the world, from Los Angeles to Amsterdam, have turned city parks into new hubs for city dwellers, places that are always well-lit, safe and usable and which can therefore be used for evening and night-time events. Smart lighting systems, be they stand-alone or integrated into benches, are opening up these spaces for artistic installations and interactive light displays too.
So smart benches aren’t just making cities friendlier to the needs of our increasingly connected and dynamic society but can also make them more attractive and resilient. They are, in fact, the ideal urban furniture for the parks, squares, bus shelters, stations, airports, banks, shopping malls of the smart cities of the future.
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