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Ford's 'smart benches' offer free phone charging and wi-fi in London

Tuesday, October 3rd 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Smart benches offering solar-powered phone charging and free wi-fi have started popping up around London.

The benches are being installed by car manufacturer Ford in partnership with Strawberry Energy, a start-up specialising in solar-powered street furniture.

As well as offering pedestrians a place to rest their feet, the benches offer both wired and wireless charging for smartphones, tablets and cameras as well as wi-fi access.

They will also be monitoring noise, carbon dioxide, humidity and temperature, and this environmental data will be available both to bench users and local authorities.

While using one of the 20 benches is free, users will be given the opportunity to donate to homeless charity St Mungo’s, Rethink Mental Illness or Macmillan Cancer Support.

“At Ford, we believe the city of tomorrow should make people feel happy, safe and connected, so we’re looking at how streets could be designed to serve a full range of activities: walking, biking, driving, connecting with others, and of course, business and services that support our economies,” said Sarah-Jayne Williams, director, Ford Smart Mobility, Europe.

“Walking, along with driving and riding public transport, is part of how people get around in a city like London and Ford Smart Benches complement perfectly the increasingly connected lives we now lead.”

Ford isn’t the first company to invest in internet-connected street furniture in London this year.

'Unable to access maps'

BT has been rolling out phone kiosks called Links, which it says is the evolution of the traditional payphone.

As well as free wi-fi, the Links offer phone calls, mobile charging points and local information displayed on large screens.

BT plans to install at least 750 Links across London and eventually take the kiosks to other UK cities.

As far as Ford’s smart benches are concerned, the idea seems to be at least in part to get people walking, according to Strawberry Energy.

Miloš Milisavljević, the start-up's founder and CEO, said: “Whether for fitness, convenience, or simply the pleasure of being outdoors, many people enjoy walking, but dread being unable to access maps, social media, and news sites while on the move.

“Ford Smart Benches in Islington, Lewisham and Southwark will increasingly help ensure that walking will continue to be a key part of how Londoners enjoy their city.”

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