2020 has already thrown a lot at the global community, and every neighborhood in every city, big or small, has felt those impacts in their own unique way. Articulating that kind of localized sentiment and connecting shared spaces with a rotating mix of news, events, alerts and other public information on screens that everyone can see is the core idea behind Soofa — a female-founded company launched out of MIT and Harvard in 2014 that has been making waves with its solar-powered E Ink digital signage displays in metropolitan hubs like Boston and Miami. Part of what makes Soofa Signs extraordinary, in addition to their sensors that allow for data insights on public spaces, is their ability to become a platform for everyone in town. Users have a voice with Soofa Talk, which is a touchless way to post messaging from the community for the community.
In the wake of COVID-19, Soofa has been working closely with city partners to push out PSAs, emergency updates, and local businesses’ opening times, among other alerts. The company recently partnered with the City of Atlanta and reformatted their screen to include a permanent piece of content displaying daily curfew information and the CDC’s Twitter feed, in addition to tips for how citizens can partake in recovery efforts. This is especially critical for reaching homeless and other digitally-unbanked sections of the populace that might not otherwise have access to online information. Digital Signage Connection (DSC) caught up with Soofa’s Director of City Growth Lyra Schweizer for more details on how these sustainable signs with a small-town feel and yet a sleek, urban aesthetic are uniting people and places in difficult times.
“Right now, I see more value than ever in communities and local organizations being able to post to the Soofa Signs in their neighborhood with messages of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as resources and organizations to donate to,” said Schweizer. “People across the country are making their voices heard in a way that hasn’t happened in generations, and making voices heard in communities and neighborhoods is what Soofa is all about.”
The Soofa name itself is an acronym … sort of. The founders originally thought of their creations as “Sustainable Outdoor Furniture Appliances,” which obviously would have been “SOFA,” and as Schweizer says, they simply added another ‘o.’ Still, the idea of sustainable interactive couches isn’t far off as they’ve seen an increase in demand for not only their signs, but their solar-powered Soofa benches. On top of your average bench functionality, Soofa’s variety allows patrons to charge their cellphones using solar power. And, in a time when many stores, malls and offices are locked down, being able to charge your cellphone outdoors naturally becomes critical for maintaining a modern existence.
“We also want to be an example of a company that is able to become profitable and actually reduce our hardware costs because we choose to be solar-powered, thus building the business case for why more companies should choose sustainable solutions,” said Schweizer. “E Ink was a natural fit for our sign because it is thin, light, and has low power consumption, thus allowing the digital screen to be fully powered by solar energy without any connection to the grid.”
Soofa just added 18 more signs in Boston, and there’s been increased demand from interested cities that are starting to understand why you need at least a contingent way of getting messaging to citizens outside of digital channels. Meanwhile, the past few months have seen spikes in inspirational community-generated activity about staying strong and maintaining best hygiene practices over the Soofa Talk platform. And right now, the fact that Soofa Signs are not touchscreens definitely doesn’t hurt them in terms of differentiating their interface from other more traditionally interactive public signage systems out there. As one recent DSC webinar panelist put it, however, the dirtiest touchscreen in our lives right now is probably our own cellphone.
“There’s a reason Soofa’s logo is a red heart; we conduct everything we do with love,” Schweizer concluded. “Soofa Signs are the neighborhood news feed. Anyone can upload content to our Signs, and we’ll even help you make your design better. This democratized access to tech gives everyone in our neighborhoods a voice, including small businesses with no marketing budget. Even the Sign itself, designed by our co-founder Jutta Friedrichs, is humble, beautiful, and easy to love.”
For more information about how Soofa is currently partnering with cities for recovery efforts, click here.
For more info about Soofa’s origins, click here.