Spark Labs has an interesting story that begins the way all great startups do: solving a personal problem. Zach Supalla's father is deaf and he wanted a way to integrate the home lighting system with his father's smartphone, so he would know when his wife was texting him. The project put Spark Labs into the connected lighting products market and the company launched their first product Spark Socket on Kickstarter.
While the Kickstarter didn't raise the required funds for the project, Spark Labs knew they were onto something. The company had raised six figures in crowdfunding and there was a clearly market demand for these products.
At the time, Supalla thought: "we're still not seeing enough connected products. The Nest is awesome, but there should be more." This idea is what prompted Spark Labs to launch the Spark Core.
Spark Core is an Arduino-compatible, WiFi enabled, cloud-powered development platform that makes creating internet-connected hardware a breeze. The Spark Core was an incredibly successful crowdfunding campaign. The company raised almost $600,000, which was well in excess of their $10,000 goal. Clearly, Spark Labs had found exactly what the market was looking for.
The success of Spark Core led to some interesting conversations with clients. "We'd been getting a lot of requests from enterprise customers and startups saying 'I want to go from prototype to 10,000 products'." That's when the Spark OS was born. The Spark OS gives startups and enterprise the tools needed to deploy thousands of connected devices.
Spark Labs has a product with a lot of market demand and investors at Lion Wells Capital, O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, SOSventures, and Collaborative Fund know it. Spark Labs has recently announced a Series A round of $4.9 million to develop the Spark OS and the timing seems perfect.
When asked about the timing of Spark OS, Supalla said there's a few things happening that make this announcement compelling. "We're seeing full market penetration of smartphones. Also, some of the barriers are going away. WiFi is in the majority of homes. The chips that provide connectivity are also getting cheaper and faster because companies like Texas Instruments and Broadcom are investing heavily. It's still expensive but next year it will be half as expensive and the following year even cheaper."
So what is the Internet of Things OS market going to look like? We've heard about QNX developing its own OS for connected devices called Project Ion, and there will surely be other incumbents. Will the IoT OS market look like smartphones, with four dominant players? Or will it be a much more fragmented ecosystem?
According to Supalla, there's a natural variety in the products that doesn't exist with smartphones and computers. In IoT, one person doesn't create the best product for everyone. There's just too many products out there. It will be a lot more fragmented but that's okay. The way Supalla would like to see it evolve is that every company that gets into the space has a standalone product. The Nest is great on its own but it gets better as more devices are connected.
It should be interesting to see how these IoT OSs compete as more devices become connected. According to Supalla, the biggest challenge in creating a great IoT OS, are the constraints that come with everyday products that weren't designed to be connected to the Internet. You're dealing with very little memory and processing power, as the product was designed for very basic operations. Being Cloud-based, Spark OS hopes to tackle these constraints by treating all devices as peripherals. The processing power is offloaded from the connected device (e.g. coffee maker) to the cloud, and thus very little is required of the device's chipset.
To learn more about the Spark OS and Spark Labs, check out their site at spark.io.
Image Credit: Wired