Dead battery relief: New York gets solar phone charging stations

This summer some odd-looking pieces of public sculpture will start popping up in pedestrian-heavy parts of New York City. Like a cross between a pogo stick and a helicopter, these contraptions are actually solar-powered charging stations for mobile phones, and they’re being installed throughout the city by solar charger maker Goal Zero, design firm Pensa and AT&T(s t).

Streetcharger Pensa solar powered phone chargingEach Street Charge terminal comes equipped with three 15 watt solar panels mounted on overhead flanges, and a big 168 watt-hour lithium ion battery pack, capable of charging six devices simultaneously and maintaining a reserve power reservoir during the night. iPhone(s aapl) owners will have access to Lightning and 30-pin connectors, while there is a micro-USB plug for other phones. Each station also comes with three female USB ports for people who carry around their own cables.

Pensa created first created a prototype of Street Charge last year and installed it in a reclaimed public area in Brooklyn’s trendy Dumbo neighborhood. Pensa then teamed up with Goal Zero to build the kiosks using its solar power technology and with AT&T to deploy them. The first of the newly designed stations went up in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Governor’s Island, Union Square and Riverside Park. but AT&T plans to install more this summer in other high-traffic pedestrian areas, including Coney Island, Riverside Park, Rockaways, Summerstage in Central Park, Randall’s Island, and Hudson River Park.

With stark memories of Hurricane Sandy still vivid in many minds, New Yorkers don’t need to be reminded of the importance of an off-grid power source. After the storm, a city-wide power outage saw New Yorkers sharing generator power to charge phones and laptops. A handful of solar-powered kiosks isn’t going charge the entire city’s cellphones if there is another natural disaster, but they’re definitely a step toward creating a sustainable alternate power supply.

The charging service is free to use, but there looks to be plenty of monetization opportunities for the kiosks. The stations include panels for display advertising, and a Wi-Fi hotspot could easily be incorporated into its design. The kiosk could also be used as an information kiosk, incorporating digital maps with points of interest, or even as means of providing solar-powered lighting at night.