Ford’s new Smart Benches are an oasis of tech – and they’re coming to London
When you think of Ford, you might think of the Model T – or maybe even a Mondeo or Sierra – but in 2017, the Blue Oval is rebranding itself as a technology company. Ford began its City of Tomorrow event in London today, unveiling an all-new urban initiative it thinks will make our journeys easier. But rather than an EV, an autonomous glowing pod or a home battery, Ford unveiled a bench. A bench!
Launched as a joint project with Strawberry Energy, which has already built 20, the new initiative will see a further 20 benches installed in London this year – but as you’d expect, these aren’t ordinary benches. Known as a Ford Smart Bench, each pod has solar panels, Wi-Fi access, and can even charge your phone. It’s basically an oasis of tech on the high street.
And if you’re worried about connectors, Ford’s urban pit stops have you covered. Although there appears to be a micro-USB charging cable, each bench also has a charging USB port, so you can use your own proprietary cable.
So what’s Ford angle, you ask? Rather than a car company, Ford now sees itself as a mobility company, and it believes the benches will charge our phones, helping us to more easily plan our journeys via apps. It’s tenuous, but it still sounds like a lifesaver for smartphone users.
“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 of 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.”
Traffic and pollution monitoring
The benches will have a more social benefit, too. Those using the urban pit stops will be able to make a donation to a range of charities including Macmillan Cancer Support to St Mungos, and the benches will also include a range of sensors. Monitoring sound, carbon dioxide, humidity and temperature, each bench will act like a listening post for pollution and traffic, and hopefully help councils in their future transport decisions.
There are, however, two catches. The first is that they look rather odd, and they’ll probably also be a hotspot for phone theft, vandalism and other anti-social crimes. Second, they’re only currently planned for Islington, Lewisham and Southwark, although if the scheme goes well they could pop up elsewhere.
Strawberry Energy, the company previously behind the smart benches, had several planning permission issues earlier this year, but if it’s now able to partner with Ford, it looks like those problems have been solved.