Soofa Is Creating Smart, Sustainable & Social Spaces

By Sophie Curtis on May 19, 2015

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Smart phones are no longer just a phone - so why should benches just be a seat? More than half of the world’s population lives in an urban environment, and wants to be connected anytime, anywhere, eager for location-based information. Meet Soofa; an icon for connected cities.

Soofa is a solar-powered bench with the capability to charge smart phones, as well as collecting and wirelessly upload environmental information such as temperature, air quality and noise-level data. The high-tech benches were invented by Changing Environments, a MIT Media Lab spin-off, whose core value is to help cities, campuses, corporations and resorts to update their urban context for the mobile generation.

Sandra Richter, CEO and co-Founder of Soofa, will be presenting at the Internet of Things Summit on 28-29 May, and attendees will be able experience a Soofa live at the event. We caught up with Sandra ahead of the summit to hear more about Soofa and her thoughts on IoT.

What was the motivation behind founding Soofa? 
There was so much talk about smart cities that it was obnoxious! This coupled with a lack of diversity and disruption in the beginnings of the smart cities industry. There was a need for something beyond male-run large corporations trying to make a play into the hot new field. Companies like IBM and Cicso placing a ton of money into large “smart” infrastructure projects is a waste when a smaller company and team can make a small intervention with equally large impacts. So, generally, we saw a market need and felt it wasn’t being fulfilled in the best way possible.

How have recent IoT developments aided the progress of Soofa?
The early commoditization of IoT products has really helped to increase the availability and diversity of items and usable components. Similar to the explosion of software in the open source ecosystem, the diversity of products allows you to create a patchwork of devices to suit your needs rather than building a system from the ground up. It’s made it a lot easier to develop a product with less resources and cost. Interestingly, though, there isn’t a “best-in-class” for any technical components yet. It feels very early-web circa 2001.

What do you feel has been essential to the success of Soofa so far?
A “Dream big but keep your feet on the ground” type of ethos. 

What challenges have you met with the development and integration of Soofa?
The entire ecosystem of smart cities is just forming so everyone is rather afraid of this new market and using their city as a proverbial test kitchen, taking that risk. It feels as though no mistakes can be made with such high stakes, but governments have actually been very excited about bringing in an icon for social, sustainable and smart cities.

What are the practical applications of your work and what sectors are most likely to be affected?
Soofa is going to change the way that people interact with their environments and urban spaces. The implications reach into so many different industries from commerce to design and real estate development.

Which areas do you feel could benefit from cross-industry collaboration?
A general IoT platform will eventually need to form. Management of different devices requires collaboration and central planning. Urban planning is often overlooked, but it influences commerce, advertising, and every facet of city life. Soofa aims to bring these areas and more together by looking towards a city-centric world. 85% of the developed world will live in urbanized areas in 2015. There will be huge strains on infrastructure, transportation, on cities as a whole. Cities need to be smart to optimize and find solutions that are scalable. Beyond just management of human needs, how can we make our cities fun, enjoyable, and beautiful? It’s a delicate balance between macro, city-wide, concerns and micro, individual-level considerations.

What do you see in the future for Soofa?
Soofa is going to be the platform for smart cities - not just governed by the government, but a platforms that urban dwellers can interact with. Citizens are consumers of the city and need to be able to govern them - after all, they live in them. It’s the democratization of cities in a sense. Soofa wants cities to look like an on demand playground. Our team has a combination of far-reaching visionaries and pragmatic German females. Governmental support has also been essential. Not taking no for an answer and pursuing the people we have wanted to work with has allowed us to achieve success in our initial target markets. 

The Internet of Things Summit is taking place in Boston on 28-29 May. Places are now limited, register today to avoid disappointment. 

Sandra Richter will be speaking on Day 2 of the summit, alongside speakers from Xively, Misfit Wearables, Ecovent, ONKÖL & more. View the schedule here

Follow the event and community discussions on Twitter with the event hashtag 
#reworkIoT.

Energy Future Cities Smart Cities Renewable Energy Photovoltaic Systems Design & UX Sustainability Environmental Monitoring IoT Mobile Devices Urban Infrastructure Women in Tech


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