Many people hailed Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of connected thermostat maker Nest earlier this month as proof of the immense importance and value of the Internet of Things. But the team at WiFi chip maker Spark, while praising Nest as “the first company to figure out what the ‘Internet of Things’ means to consumers and deliver products that people actually want,” took the announcement as something of a challenge. Using their own Spark Core and some off-the-shelf components, they built a prototype of a Nest-like smart thermostat in just a few hours.
The point wasn’t to one-up Nest or to devalue the work that went into designing that company’s signature product. Rather, Spark wanted to show how easy it is to develop IoT products today, as a demonstration of how far the industry has come since Nest was founded in 2010.
“Nest had to spend millions of dollars on R&D to build the basic infrastructure behind the product,” the Spark team wrote in a blog post documenting their attempt to replicate Nest’s work in a single day.
It’s a striking contrast. All Spark had to do was clip a few sensors and other components to a breadboard, use a CNC mill and laser cutter to carve out a wood and acrylic housing, and spend a few hours coding the firmware. Other functions, like the ability to control the thermostat from a smartphone or provide a learning algorithm so it adjusts to usage patterns, were provided by the Spark Cloud service communicating with the prototype over wifi via a REST API.
Spark spent only $70 to replicate the basic functions of the Nest -- but they readily admit that, as a rough prototype, their version is nowhere near as polished.
“In this process, we’ve come to respect the incredible technical challenges that Nest has solved while also coming to understand how much the game has changed since they first started,” Spark wrote.
The recent proliferation of cloud services, APIs, and small chips that integrate processors with wireless connectivity has made it relatively trivial for even low-budget tinkerers to develop powerful, innovative products. Nest’s partnership with Google undoubtedly places it at the top of the Internet of Things ladder -- but there’s clearly a lot of room at the bottom, and Spark’s experiment proves just how easy it is to grab a handhold and start hoisting yourself up.
Want to give it a shot? Spark made their connected thermostat design completely open-source, and you can grab the source code at Github.