by Malcolm Kay, Affiliate ASLA
In just a few short years, bench seating has evolved from simply offering a place to sit and relax to high tech community hubs. Benches can now be recharging stations for phones, laptops, e-bikes, and e-scooters; centers for monitoring and recording data on local environment conditions; music centers with Bluetooth speakers; Wi-Fi hotspots; and workstations with 120V power and overhead lighting—all within a compact, self-contained structure, free from any external power.
It was only seven years ago that the first solar powered smart bench with fully integrated solar panels was developed in Europe. The earliest models took the view that this new type of bench should look revolutionary in all respects, so side panels were square steel plate, painted a brilliant white with the seat basically being a flat panel housing PV cells, protected with a thick sheet of glass or polycarbonate.
Since that time, the design of solar powered benches has evolved considerably, with some benches now incorporating PV cells concealed so successfully that they resemble wood slats. Even the backrest of the seats can be used to house PV cells, increasing the power generating capacity without increasing the width or length of the seat.