We should live in the Jetsons era by now, but despite all our innovations in computing power and the cloud, our houses remain pretty dumb. That’s because most specialized, contractor-installed home automation systems are a very expensive proposition. But a new wave of cheaper, networked gadgets may let us skirt the top-down approach, building automated homes one device at a time.
We’ve seen this concept applied to heating and cooling with the Nest, and now, it’s here for our lighting with the Spark Socket. New to Kickstarter, the Socket, designed by Scot Herbst, is a Wi-Fi adapter that fits in any light socket and allows you to control the light bulb with your iPhone.
"Home automation products have always sucked. They’re often poorly designed, enormously expensive (systems can cost $5K or more), they have terrible graphic UIs, and they don’t do very much," Spark Devices founder Zach Supalla tells Co.Design. "We’re trying to turn that on its head with Spark."
A single Spark Socket runs $59. Once you screw in a bulb, it draws power from the socket and joins your Wi-Fi network just like a laptop. There’s no further wiring or installation required, and a clever color scheme keeps multiple Sockets straight—an LED on the front of each Socket automatically glows a different color (like red, blue, or green). Your accompanying iPhone app will create an on/off switch for each Socket you add, coordinating with this color scheme automatically.
"You can label them if you want, but if not, you immediately know which one’s which with on-the-fly color-coding," Supalla says. "That’s the kind of experience that blends the software and hardware worlds and to me is the future of personal computing: when the Internet invades your home in a powerful but unobtrusive way."
By leveraging apps and the cloud, Spark’s capabilities become far greater than turning on and off lights without hitting the switch on the wall. Spark is programmable to respond to a variety of web-based inputs, so you can have your lights slowly illuminate in your bedroom as an alarm clock, or blink when you receive an email or text message. It’s all pretty neat for everyday consumers, but it could be revolutionary for the deaf or hard of hearing. Supalla himself was inspired to create the Spark by growing up with his deaf father, who used tricks like wiring the doorbell to flash the lights in addition to chiming.
However, as fun as the Spark Socket is in its current incarnation, this is clearly trojan horse technology. There’s no reason that, with a little tweaking, these API-backed Wi-Fi dongles couldn’t empower more automation through your home, connecting anything with power to your Wi-Fi network (especially as Spark Products plan to integrate the incredible sensors made by Twine). But while the team "definitely" sees Spark moving beyond sockets, they’ll have to deliver on their inaugural Kickstarter campaign first.