With Spark Devices, Your Lights Connect to Wifi and Talk to You

November 21, 2012

3:00 pm

In Harry Potter, the Weasley family has a magic clock that indicates where all the family members are, from school to prison to mortal peril. If Spark Devices has its way, we might see a primitive version of that next year – a lightbulb that dims when a family member gets further away.

This is one of the many possibilities for Spark Devices, which has designed an attachment that lets you control your light bulbs over Wifi. They are currently raising $250,000 on Kickstarter to fund manufacturing and licensing.

“There’s this concept of ambient data, where you can have information presented to you in a non-obtrusive way – it’s just there. If you want to look at it, great; if you don’t, you don’t have to,” says founder and CEO Zach Supalla. “Lights are all over your home, and it’s easy to present information on them.”

For now, the Minneapolis startup has a prototype in their office that lights up whenever someone tweets #hellospark. They are also working on a handful of features: turning off when you leave the house, dimming when it gets bright outside, or gradually turning on in the morning so your alarm doesn’t jolt you awake.

Spark Devices is also talking to Ooya to have lights interact with video games, creating an immersive experience where explosions come with flashes of light. And they plan to collaborate with Twine, which builds sensors for the home, to have lights alert you to things like moisture, temperature, or motion. Spark is also releasing its software API to the public, so anyone could build an app to control Spark lights.

This smart lighting system was inspired by Supalla’s father, who is deaf. He used to rely on a landline’s flashing lights to know when the phone was ringing, but cell phones are trickier (except when he can see the screen or feel it vibrate). A Spark light could be programmed to blink when he receives a phone call, keeping him in contact with his family.

Other Wifi-enabled light bulbs already exist, such as the LIFX and Philips hue. Both of those are LED lights, while the Spark socket works with incandescent, CFL, or LED bulbs.

If Spark gets funded, they plan to ship in July 2013.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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