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Building an Open Source Learning Thermostat

Zach Supalla (Particle)
Open Hardware
Average rating: ****.
(4.56, 9 ratings)

In January, Google bought Nest, a connected devices company, for $3.2 billion. This might seem like an ungodly sum for a company that makes thermostats and smoke detectors, but it makes absolute sense. Nest’s products are beautifully designed, their team is overflowing with talent, and they were the first company to figure out what the “Internet of Things” means to consumers and deliver products that people actually want.

But in order to do this, Nest had to spend millions of dollars on R&D to build the basic infrastructure behind the product. The high cost made it impossible for anyone but the extremely well-capitalized to enter the market and create connected things.

However, due to the rise of new open source tools, it’s now possible for start-ups and engineers that don’t have millions of dollars sitting around to build a product as powerful and as game-changing as Nest. To prove this point, we’ll walk through the development of an open source thermostat using the Spark Core, an open source hardware tool for developing amazing connected devices.

This thermostat was developed by the Spark team in 24 hours, and published in a blog post

And all of the content was open sourced on Github

Upon its release, this blog post was the top story on Hacker News for nearly two days, and was re-published in dozens of publications, from WIRED to Engadget to Fast Company:

We’re not saying that you can build a $3.2 billion company in a day. But we are saying that you can build a $3.2 billion company, and it’s easier now than it’s ever been before.

Connected devices/Internet of Things/M2M/Industrial Internet is a certified big deal, and the Nest acquisition proves it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a software developer with no hardware experience, an embedded designer with no web experience, or a psych major with no experience whatsoever. This is the next frontier, and it’s time to check it out.

Your billion dollar company starts with a million dollar product, and your million dollar product starts with a hundred dollar prototype. So what are you waiting for?

Photo of Zach Supalla

Zach Supalla


Zach Supalla is an entrepreneur, a Maker, and a designer. He is the founder and CEO of Spark, a start-up that’s making it easier to build internet-connected hardware. Zach juggles hardware design, front-end software development, and leading his team through the trials and tribulations of a hardware start-up.

The Spark team led a successful Kickstarter campaign for their product, the Spark Core, in May 2013, raising nearly $600K in 30 days off of a goal of $10K. They’re now shipping to 61 countries, with thousands of engineers and developers building new connected devices with their technology. Their products have been featured in WIRED, Engadget, Fast Company, TechCrunch, the Discovery Channel, and many other publications.

Zach is a graduate of HAXLR8R, the only incubator for hardware start-ups that will teach you to order bubble tea in perfect Mandarin. He also has an MBA from Kellogg School of Management and an MEM (Masters in Engineering Management) from McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern. Before Spark, Zach worked as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, advising Fortune 500 companies on strategy, operations, and product development.