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What would you do with a Wi-Fi connected Arduino board and a cloud service that lets you write code to control your new Wi-Fi enabled computer? Would you design a refrigerator magnet that tweets? Maybe set your lights to flicker when your high school crush changes his or her relationship status? Or, why not build a multimillion-dollar product line of connected devices supported by the Spark Core service?
Spark Devices, a startup that’s part of the HAXLR8R incubator in China, has launched a Kickstarter campaign for its Spark Core hardware and cloud service that advertises the first two ideas, but CEO and Co-founder Zach Supalla hopes that the last example is where the market eventually ends up. The company’s Kickstarter is already funded after a mere 75 minutes (the goal was a relatively low $10,000), but the hardware isn’t the really exciting offering here.
Essentially the hardware is an Arduino with the nicest Texas Instruments Wi-Fi shield attached. A shield is what people add to their Arduino boards for extra functionality. They come in all kinds ranging from LCD screen to Wi-Fi. But the point is that anyone can make this: The real value is, as Supalla said, in the software.
In a chat this afternoon Supalla explained that the company’s four employees have been coming up with the Spark Core idea and platform since its first Kickstarter project (and business idea) failed. They had offered a connected light bulb called Spark Socket just a few weeks after the Philips Hue and the LIFX light bulb came out, and apparently the market for connected lightbulbs was subsequently saturated.
Supalla didn’t let that slow him down. Like several other companies he recognized that while there are hundreds of thousands of makers out there willing to play around with connected devices, there were literally millions of people who would love to have the same kind of toys that DIYers hack together in a more polished form.
But the price of delivering that polished form was too high for Spark Devices; plus, there’s more value in software as open hardware becomes more tenable for businesses building consumer-grade hardware outside of DIYers. So Spark really wants to make the same play that Electric Imp is attempting, offering connectivity in an easy-to-integrate package with the primary value being a cloud-based platform for hosting and writing the code to build services associated with those connected devices.
In short, it’s another platform as a service for the internet of things. Thus, with the hardware components it is most like Electric Imp, but on the software side it competes with a bunch of companies such as Carriots, ThingWorx and likely many more.
So for those of you excited about pulling together a Wi-Fi powered RC car or a connected web cam, this project and hardware is for you. But to build a big business Spark Devices is going to have to entice more than makers.
The good news is the team knows this, and has a small amount of seed funding to get it started. Let’s see what happens.