Dumbing down the Internet of Things with Spark OS

A new technology stack aims to level the playing field in the Internet of Things.

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A little over a year ago, the people behind the Spark system for connecting everyday devices to the internet launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking a modest $10,000 in funding. Today, the company announced $4.9 million in Series A funding, The Next Web reports. Maybe they’re onto something.

The funding coincides with the announcement of the Spark OS, which aims to make it easier for anyone – from seasoned network engineers and developers to hobbyists and designers – to build internet-connected devices.

See also: 15 weird things in the Internet of Things

The Spark Core, which has been available in beta since November and is already featured in a couple of commercial products, is a $39 board that runs Arduino code and provides connectivity to a previously disconnected device. The new cloud-based Spark operating system aims to make Core-enabled devices truly smart without becoming too expensive. Some examples, as shown in the ironic but sufficiently illustrative promotional video below, include programming lights to turn on automatically after sunset or doors to lock themselves after they've been shut.

Spark OS from Spark on Vimeo.

The idea is not just to make it easier to connect the devices that people want to connect, but to make the best possible use of that connectivity. A cloud operating system, as pointed out in the above video, means this connectivity can extend beyond just the ability to control a light switch with a smartphone, and can make these newly connected devices communicate with each other in a way that makes them more useful.

Spark’s website lists three different kits, for beginners, intermediate users, and advanced users. Spark says the kits for beginners "come with everything you need to get started without a soldering iron or even a line of code," which, if true, could be a coup for designers or novices who have an idea for a product but lack the experience or skills to build it themselves. The intermediate level bills itself as the option for software developers who lack experience working with hardware, and the advanced Spark Core is entirely open sourced to encourage adoption among commercial products.

Whether this will all work as well as the company intends remains to be seen, but the funding (not to mention the $567,000 in Kickstarter donations last year) speaks for itself. But at a time when companies and developers are racing to get in on IoT buzz by simply throwing new connected devices at consumers, it’s refreshing to see someone consider how this market can include more people.

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