Kickstarting: A Wi-Fi-Connected Light Socket Connects Any Bulb To Your iPhone

The Spark Socket takes a modular approach to internet-connected home automation, one bulb at a time.

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.

Pre-order one here.

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  • Asmodeus1971

    Also if it was a behind the face plate device it could be used with receptacles also not just switches  A useful device for parents with kids who like to try watching TV, playing video games etc.... after bedtime.

  • Fedup

    Agreed with the other posters.  I think you're limiting your audience by going for the bulb controller.  Instead, opt for a drop-in replacement wall switch - or something that can be added to an existing wall switch (behind the wall plate).  This would solve two glaring issues with your current approach:

    1) Bulb types and quantities vary with each light fixture... What if it's a chandelier, or multiple wall sconces?

    2) If the bulb socket is off, and someone comes into the room and tries to flip the wall switch, nothing would happen.

    On the flip side, a wifi-enable wall switch would control the entire circuit (assuming the mosfet/relay is not overloaded).  And more importantly, the commands from the remote user can be sent in parallel to the wall switch position - that is, it operates like a three-way switch.

  • hypnotoad72

    Didn't X10 have a system like this?

    Just to buy a $700 phone (or $300 w/2 year extortion plan), followed by the hardware and software... the word "ridiculous" comes to mind.

    I'd rather spend my money on useless things like college and decent transportation, how dare I spend it on frivolous things instead of a remote light bulb switch...

  • Steven Goldman

    Do these devices draw any power when the bulb is off? If so, that could end up wiping out some of the energy savings by switching off unnecessary lights.

  • hypnotoad72

     Pretty much.

    We'd rather put in electronic energy-sucking gizmos and spend obscene amounts of money for the entry fee than to learn how to use something we call a "light switch", whatever that is, and be mindful of it...  seems a bit like a shell game...

  • Damon3638

    In Japan, most of apartments have remote control for the lighting already. 
    It's more handy. 

    I have tried to use my phone as remote control for my sony TV, it was cool, but I dont use it that much. 

  • Karl Robstad

    If these were $20, I'd do my whole house. 60 bucks is just not parctical. good luck guys, hope you succeed!

  • hypnotoad72

     They have to earn money somehow.  What should they do?  Buy pull tabs?  Lottery tickets?  Invest in the stock market?  Or anything more outrageous and obscene than those options?

  • Victor

    This concept just like the Hue and Lifx is overlooking an important point of interaction, the light switch.
    So what happens when you turn of the switch at the wall, then you can't turn it on again from your phone right?

    And sure the idea is that you are supposed to use your phone, but having to get your phone from your pocket(if it is even in your pocket) and open the app to turn of a light instead of just flicking the switch on the wall when you pass by... That's just not very easy is it? Especially if you have several people living in the house...
    The rest of the idea is great though and especially for special purposes (like for def people) but for this to become really useful you would need always-on power grids with toggle switches.

  • rsmck

    Great idea, but it needs to be a lower price, at the moment it's on par with Philips Hue (which is available now) and LiFx, Lumen etc and all the similar projects which use LED lamps which are more efficient and allow full colour mixing.

    That said, I still have some incandescent lamps in my home (by choice) which I could use with Spark but wouldn't be willing to replace with LED lamps.

  • YZ

    It would be really cool if it cost 59 cents each. Wondering if there is an easier solution in the switch box which you can control multiple light bulb at the same time. 

  • asperous

    I really doubt in the long run, these are going to be popular. Mostly because it solves  a problem few people run into. The lightswitch is really good at what it does, dependable, simple, effective. Rarely crashes, never needs software updates, doesn't go offline.

    I think if Lutron integrated this kind of system it would be a lot more ubiquitous. Having it intregrated into the lightswitch makes more sense to me, although much harder to install.