A Beginners Guide To Spark Core
As a web developer and general tech enthusiast, I felt it was about time I dipped my toe into the exciting and rapidly growing area of the ‘Internet of Things’. I am a relative newbie to hardware hacking, so my aim is not to offer a deep dive review, but instead simply alleviate any concerns you may have about rolling up your sleeves and giving the Spark Core a go.
The Spark Core was successfully crowdfunded back in June 2013, and exceeded its campaign goal by a staggering 5,680% on Kickstarter! Needless to say, the product quickly came to market to join an increasing number of wonderfully inexpensive kits. At just $39 (£25), it is affordable to all (the next generation ‘Photon’ is also available for pre-order at just $19 (£12)).
So what is the Spark Core? It is essentially a small development board, much like an Arduino (another small computer board), that contains both an ARM chipset and integrated Wi-Fi. The Spark Core is capable of loading code/programs for the board to run. All the programs are fortunately in the Arduino language that has extensive tutorial coverage and a wide community base. The board can be used to connect outputs such as lights and motors. It can also be programmed to respond to temperature and light. A simple example might be a program that says “if the temperature is below 20 degrees, turn on my heater”. Nothing particularly revolutionary about that, but what is really exciting about this device and the IOT in general, is how easy it has become to connect inputs and outputs directly to the Internet thanks, in this case, to the guys at Spark!
Spark’s cunning ‘out-of-the-box’ API server and web-based IDE (Integrated Development Environment), makes it easy to make the Spark Core influence and react to things online via simple credentials. A recent project I worked on enabled me to control my Spark Core via my Twitter account. My next project will be to build mood lighting based on Google’s weather data. The web-based IDE basically enables anyone to upload and edit new programs to their Spark Core remotely, from anywhere in the world, via their web browser. What this means is that you could configure the Spark Core so that you could control your home security system while you’re on vacation!
Prior to owning this device, I had never programmed or had any experience with Arduino so after the excitement of unwrapping the packaging died down, I must admit there was more than a little head scratching! I expect for newbies like me you will also feel a little intimidated and perplexed, but fear not! Here are few signposts to get you started:
- There are plenty of starter projects on the Spark community that you can duplicate (code and circuit-build). This will enable you to build your confidence, because they are very straightforward so will give you a great confidence boost!
- As the Spark Core uses Arduino you will find loads of tutorials online, and a huge amount of useful information to get you going with the basics.
- Explore other people’s projects on instructables.com and hackster.io as both have loads of great Spark Core projects that, in most cases, offer step-by-step instructions.
If you have any questions about the Spark Core and want to know how to get started, please feel free to give me a shout at @fielderhe or DM me on Twitter. Good luck!
For Sale: spark.io