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NYC To Install Free Cellphone-Charging Stations

A clever solar-powered concept we encountered just a few months back will be installed across NYC starting this week

  • <p>A while back, Pensa had an idea for a solar-powered recharging station for urban streets.</p>
  • <p>It attached to signs and provided cellphone power.</p>
  • <p>Pensa got a lot of interest, so they began testing the idea--just using umbrellas to hold solar panels that could charge pedestrians’ gadgets as a field test.</p>
  • <p>They learned a lot, like that if this were going to work, they had to supply the power and the iPhone/USB cords.</p>
  • <p>And of course, they got sketching.</p>
  • <p>The final design is like a three-petal flower.</p>
  • <p>It no longer connects to signs, but it is self-sufficient, and can be dropped in any space.</p>
  • <p>You’ll notice a lot more surface area for solar panels.</p>
  • <p>And the whole trunk is thicker--likely to store more batteries.</p>
  • <p>Most of these stations will end up in parks--off the grid spaces, basically.</p>
  • <p>I dig their tiny coffee/phone platforms.</p>
  • <p>They’ll live in NYC for 90 days, moving around a few times, before they’re retired.</p>
  • 01 /13

    A while back, Pensa had an idea for a solar-powered recharging station for urban streets.

  • 02 /13

    It attached to signs and provided cellphone power.

  • 03 /13

    Pensa got a lot of interest, so they began testing the idea--just using umbrellas to hold solar panels that could charge pedestrians’ gadgets as a field test.

  • 04 /13

    They learned a lot, like that if this were going to work, they had to supply the power and the iPhone/USB cords.

  • 05 /13

    And of course, they got sketching.

  • 06 /13
  • 07 /13

    The final design is like a three-petal flower.

  • 08 /13

    It no longer connects to signs, but it is self-sufficient, and can be dropped in any space.

  • 09 /13

    You’ll notice a lot more surface area for solar panels.

  • 10 /13

    And the whole trunk is thicker--likely to store more batteries.

  • 11 /13

    Most of these stations will end up in parks--off the grid spaces, basically.

  • 12 /13

    I dig their tiny coffee/phone platforms.

  • 13 /13

    They’ll live in NYC for 90 days, moving around a few times, before they’re retired.

Not so long ago, we featured a Pensa concept that we called a rest stop for the urban age—a system called Street Charge that could attach to any sign, then top off cellphone batteries through a solar panel (all while providing a convenient ledge for your coffee).

Following the concept’s release, Pensa received a lot of interest in making Street Charge a reality. And now, through a partnership with solar company Goal Zero and AT&T, Street Charge will be installed in 25 locations across New York City, then repositioned two more times over a three-month run.

The concept has seen a few changes. For one, Pensa had to test their concept. So they set up a bunch of normal umbrellas connected to solar chargers, and they collected user data on the streets of New York. They learned things like: How much power does the average person need? Do people bring their own power adapters? (They almost never do.)

Then Pensa took feedback from city policy to heart. So rather than building Street Charge as a modification for existing signs, which would require a whole other level of negotiations, the system has been redesigned to serve as a self-sufficient battery-filled pole that can be dropped anywhere—from a swatch of unused asphalt to a patch of grass in a city park. And in fact, the majority of installations will be in these natural, electricity dead zones, Pensa’s founder Marco Perry tells me, as Street Charge’s solar panels mean they don’t require the expense and eyesore of digging up grass to lay wires under parks.

As for Street Charge’s new look, which has evolved from a single curved solar panel to a helicopter-like segmented trio of panels, that was made in order to generate more solar surface area while blending in a bit better in parks.

"We wanted something that looked like it fit naturally in those natural environments," Perry says. "It’s a little bit organic, but it’s a little bit industrial. It kind of looks like a flower, but so little that it’s not kitschy. It’s more of an abstraction."

Street Charge units will be on the ground for a run of 90 days in an exclusive deal with AT&T. But as they’re classified as temporary structures, and the promotion will come to an end, Street Charge could expand more permanently to other cities in the future. It’s not a bad idea, though I have one request: Fit a mini cell tower on this thing, and I’m sold.

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