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Last summer, Brooklyn design studio Pensa decided to test out a public solar-powered charging station for mobile devices in the studio’s home borough. The idea immediately took off and what started as a trial project in Dumbo, Brooklyn’s Pearl Street Triangle in 2012 has become a citywide effort in 2013. On Tuesday, Solar power technology firm Goal Zero, Pensa, and AT&T unveiled the first of many solar-powered charging stations that will keep New Yorkers powered up this summer between work and a night out on the town.
Dubbed Street Charge, the first station is set-up at Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn with plans to expand the stations to popular locations across the five boroughs such as Brooklyn Bridge Park, Coney Island, Governor’s Island, Union Square, and Summer stage in Central Park.
Each station features six USB outlets including connectors for iPhones (30-pin and lightning), as well as micro USB connectors for Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone. There are also regular USB ports for anyone who brings their own cable. The station takes about an hour to fully charge a phone, but is meant for quick power-ups that keep your phone running. Goal Zero says the charging stations, powered by the company’s solar panels and lithium batteries, could also be used to add Wi-Fi access points, lighting, waypoint signs, and advertising.
This sounds great in concept, but there’s more than a couple of reasons why a standalone charging station that isn’t actively monitored could be a disaster. Setting aside the high theft rate for smartphones in NYC — such that the NYPD has a special department just for tracking them down — there are issues with the charging stations. Lightning adapters can be modified to jailbreak an iPhone and steal all of the information on the device in under a minute, and all it would take is for someone with malicious intent to have access to the charging station long enough to hide the hardware somewhere on/in the station.
Android users are vulnerable as well, with a similar exploit found with micro USB cables. In fact just about every smartphone is vulnerable to this kind of attack, and once these Street Charge stations are set up there’s no way to monitor them all day every day to make sure no one tampers with them.
Unfortunately, there’s just no good way to have public charging stations and be able to guarantee that they are safe. This is one of the big arguments in support of inductive charging and the Qi standard. These kinds of vulnerabilities aren’t possible with that technology, and if deployed correctly you can just have a table next to a park bench or a specific zone on a coffee table where you can get some power. Using a physical cable that you don’t own, where you can’t see what the other end is connected to, is just a bad idea. With AT&T’s name plastered on these stations, there’s a pretty clear place to point a finger should the worst happen.
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Source: Associated Press