Smart bench expansion

2016-06-07 06:00
 The Isabelo smart bench provides free WiFi and USB charging points.  PHOTO: S Alfreds/Cape Town Partnership

The Isabelo smart bench provides free WiFi and USB charging points. PHOTO: S Alfreds/Cape Town Partnership

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Over 800 people made use of the Isabelo smart bench installed on the corner of Wale and Adderley streets in just one month.

And now the Cape Town Partnership plans to roll out another bench to Pier Place in the next few weeks.

The bench has an access point that receives the Internet signal from a nearby building and broadcasts it as WiFi through the access point attached to the mast of the bench, explains the partnership’s Alan Cameron.

“The solar panels above the top sail fuel the batteries that power the electronic equipment – including the USB charging points in the central pillar,” he says.

In April, only a month after the bench was installed, 800 people made use of it, says Cameron.

“It transforms a place between destinations to a destination in and of itself by offering the services of free WiFi and mobile device charging points. Within the first six weeks of placement the users of the bench burnt through 100 gigs of bandwidth – that’s a lot of bandwidth to consume via the screen of a phone!”

Users have been noted at the bench at all times of the day, and even in the rain, says Cameron.

“Clustering people of all walks of life to the area around the bench means the area becomes a safer space.

“It also becomes a more welcoming space, with greater opportunity for incidental conversations with strangers – the type of conversations that lead one to understand that strangers are often friendly people, quite willing to lend you their USB connection to charge your phone.

“This camaraderie builds the community spirit of the place, and making the local a prouder South African, and helping tourists to understand why locals love living here,” he says.

Besides making the public space more equitable, the free WiFi provides a bridge between South Africa’s extreme digital divide, Cameron believes.

“Current estimates find two in three South Africans are unable to afford internet access, and in the Western Cape it was found that some households spend more than 25% of their income on ICT related costs (data and airtime) as they look for economic opportunities online.”

The business model behind the bench relies on the sale of market research, Cameron explains. These funds are used to pay for the costs associated with the bench – the creation of it, the set-up and maintenance as well as the bandwidth costs.

The bench currently in Wale Street was installed in partnership with Wesgro, the investment and trade promotion agency for the Western Cape, and the survey questions posed to users are mostly about local and international tourist experiences, to establish a feedback loop to better inform Cape Town Partnership projects, such as City Walk Saturdays, and to pass on to relevant stakeholders.

“Besides providing market research, advertising is also an avenue for funding. When talking about funding market research, it’s important to also state that any data collected is done so in line with the Public Information Act – so at no point is there an abuse of the confidence placed in us as holders of this information.”

The Pier Place bench will work on a similar model, with a corporate sponsor showing interest in contributing towards the public activation of the square.


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