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$70 Thermostat proves the power of open-source technology


spark-thermostat2Although every big corporation and patent troll would tell you otherwise, the open source model is one of the surest paths to technological innovation and progress. By offering universal access to a product’s design, and then allowing improvements on said design to be redistributed to anyone who wants to continue polishing, open source democratizes the building process, greatly increasing the chance for a breakthrough.

With the rise of the internet, open source development has flourished, proving how powerful community collaboration could be. One recent example of the importance of open source comes in the form of a new digital thermostat.

Surprisingly enough, thermostats are quite fashionable at the moment, particularly when you consider Google just dropped $3.2 billion on Nest, Tony Fadell’s (iPod designer) thermostat and smoke detector company. This follows the trend of Google (and many others) looking to create “smart houses” that operate in a sustainable and intelligent manner.

What makes the thermostat in question notable is the fact that, rather than spending hundreds of millions on R&D with a small group of engineers using proprietary technology, it simply makes use of the open source method, human capital….and $70 bucks.

The results are amazing to say the least. Four engineers were able to create a thermostat highly similar to that of Nest’s flagship product in under a day! The team at Spark.io spent $70 on components, and turned them into a fully functional thermostat that indicates fan and heater settings via LEDs, and allows you to adjust them by turning a ring.

Here are some of notable aspects of the thermostat, as discussed in the developer blog:

  • The Spark Core served as our connected brain.

  • We display the temperature on a few Adafruit 8×8 LED matrices. The interface for the displays is a common I2C bus.

  • The primary sensor is a Honeywell HumidIcon temperature and humidity sensor, which shares the I2C bus with the displays.

  • For our MVP, we decided a couple LEDs could represent whether the heat and fan were on. In the end the same pins would be connected to relays instead of the LEDs.

  • If you want to save energy when a person’s not home, then you need a way to know when they are home so you can err on the side of comfort again. We added a Panasonic PIR motion detector.

They continued the process by building an enclosure and adding the necessary software to help it run effectively. Making use of the software also allows for the ability to upgrade (through firmware, or updating the cloud). Lastly, they connected the thermostat to the web using a Wi-Fi module (which is built-in).

While their creation may not have the aesthetic value of Nest (yet), or a near $400 billion dollar market capitalization (like Nest’s parent company), Spark.io is proving the immense value of open-source, and showing the world that important future discoveries do not require a well-funded lab in Silicon Valley to be realized. All that is needed is an open-source environment, a bit of know-how, and a willingness to collaborate.

Great things will surely follow.

Source: Spark

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