Surf net in CBD with free un­lim­ited wi-fi

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - LERATO MBANGENI lerato.mbangeni@inl.co.za

IF YOU find your­self stuck in Braam­fontein with a flat com­puter bat­tery or your data de­pleted, you can now plug in and con­nect us­ing the Is­abelo smart bench.

The con­crete struc­ture, built out­side the La­munu Ho­tel in the precinct, has a place to sit, plug in your charg­ing ca­ble and surf the net us­ing free un­lim­ited wi-fi.

At the launch of the smart bench yesterday, Louise Meek, whose brain­child the pro­ject was, said the so­lar­pow­ered bench was their re­sponse to a need for ac­ces­si­ble in­ter­net in Joburg.

With a team of three oth­ers, Meek stream­lined her idea into the sim­plis­tic bench.

“We pitched it to the Green City Startup for seed cap­i­tal, and we made it to the top eight in March.”

The Green City Startup is a City of Joburg ini­tia­tive, which held a chal­lenge to fund green ini­tia­tives.

The team de­vel­oped and launched a pro­to­type of the bench, which was made of ply­wood, and placed it in the Mabo­neng precinct in Doorn­fontein in May to see how they could im­prove it. Af­ter try­ing it out in two other venues, they had their fi­nal prod­uct.

“And now, af­ter seven months of work, we are proud to say we have the first ever smart bench in Africa,” Meek said at the launch.

She said the bench makes money by pro­vid­ing a mar­ket re­search tool for brands and com­pa­nies.

When users log on to the wi-fi, they an­swer a num­ber of ques­tions about them­selves, and that info can be used by in­ter­ested par­ties.

Although the team re­ceived R250 000 from the Green City Startup ini­tia­tive, they are hop­ing to win the next round of the chal­lenge and win a mil­lion rand to roll out more benches.

“We want to make another 15 benches from it, and if that doesn’t work out, we’re ap­proach­ing cor­po­rate clients,” Meek said.

PIC­TURES: NOKUTHULA MBATHA

SMART CON­NEC­TION: Is­abelo is a wi-fi con­nec­tion and phone charger smart bench lo­cated in Braam­fontein, Joburg, and launched yes­ter­day. Stu­dent Mandy Lupond­wana, left, who re­sides in the area, gets smart.

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