Last fall, major automotive company Ford partnered up with smart city start-up Strawberry Energy to design a piece of urban infrastructure that’s not only functional, it’s also something that could impact the future of city planning. Rolling out in capitals like London, solar-powered smart benches take a normal piece of city furniture and make it something more than just a place to rest your weary legs. Smart benches offer passers-by modern-day conveniences like mobile charging and Wi-Fi access while collecting environmental data that can be used by local authorities. This technology is now spreading to capitals across the continent, with plans to debut for the first time in Greece, starting in the city of Athens.-Bruno De Man
Street furniture reimagined
At the “Smart Cities—Digital Citizens Conference” last month in Greece, locals were given a first look at one of the hottest smart city gadgets on the market—smart benches. Each bench will feature mobile device charging stations, Wi-Fi hotspots, temperature-controlled seating, and environmental sensors, which can help monitor noise, carbon dioxide, humidity, and temperature. The introduction of these benches is a major push forward in the city’s plan to become smarter. According to the city’s chief digital officer, Constantinos Hambidis, one key element in the creation of a smart city is the expansion of high-speed broadband networks. “If you don’t have high-speed internet, both wired and wireless, then you cannot properly deploy applications,” he explained in an article in Kathimerini. Since these benches serve as hotspots, that’s one step forward for Wi-Fi expansion across the city, allowing residents to access over 55 online services on the city’s central electronic services site. In addition to high-speed networks, another area of importance is open data, offering citizens the chance to connect with the city’s administration. Data collected from the benches is made available to the public so they can be informed on everything from daily temperature to congested streets, a serious issue for the capital since 45 percent of the Greek population lives in Athens and cause heavy traffic across the city. In addition to solutions like smart benches, the mayor has turned to technology companies like IBM to help develop sustainable mobility options and smart traffic management so that everything from parking to freight transport will run smoother across the city, improving quality of life in the process.