If you take a stroll down Adderley Street in the city centre, be sure to make a stop at the new Smart Bench on the corner of Wale Street.
In its pilot phase, the Smart Bench is a stand-alone, entirely solar powered free Wi-Fi hotspot for public use, complete with USB charging points, night lighting and easy seating.
This is another boost for the Cape as a world-class tech hub, following significant investment by the provincial government in fibre and wireless connectivity, as well as the City of Cape Town, in investment in Africa’s largest open access fibre network, and free Wi-Fi in sites like the nearby Company Gardens
A new user of the Smart Bench can connect to the “Isabelo Free Wi-Fi” network to enjoy free, unlimited internet service with their smart phone or device, and charge their batteries at the free power point.
The Isabelo Smart Bench was invented by Louise Meek two years ago while she was studying for a master’s degree in urban infrastructure design and management.
“Isabelo aims to reduce the digital divide in African cities and create inclusive, vibrant public spaces where everyone feels welcome to sit down and get connected,” she says.
Adriaan Hugo, lead industrial designer of the Isabelo Smart Bench and co-founder of the award winning Johannesburg design company Dokter and Misses, sees the bench as a ground breaking “plug and play solution for public spaces”.
“It is a first for Africa. These different technologies have been available on our continent for some time and Isabelo brings them all together into one incredible user-friendly Smart Bench,” says Hugo.
Isabelo has joined the Cape Town Partnership and Wesgro to provide a Wi-Fi range of 15 metres around the bench with connection speeds of up to 10mbps.
Judy Lain, chief marketing officer for Wesgro, believes Isabelo will generate real-time data from visitors and enable them to share information around events in the province.
“We can use these insights in our marketing strategies to develop campaigns that are highly effective and experiences that are sharable”, she says.
Bulelwa Makalima-Ngwewana, CEO of Cape Town Partnership, believes that busier spaces are often safer and provide more opportunities for relationship building.
“The bench is an exciting experiment in placemaking,” he says.
“The space where it’s placed suddenly becomes more: a place to meet people, find out information or just relax. Given recent events in Cape Town, the safety associated with active public spaces has become more important now than ever.”