Analog Angle Article

Will the “The Clapper” be negated by today’s consumer electronics?

What holiday season would be complete without the relentless appearance of those TV, radio, and print ads for “The Clapper” (as well as the Chia pet, of course)?

For those of you in the dark, The Clapper is a small box which goes between a standard AC outlet and the AC-line cord of a regular household product, such as a table lamp. Clap your hands once, and the lamp goes on; clap again, the lamp is turned off. Technically, it's a sound-activated AC-power switch.

The ads show The Clapper being used for bedside lamps and radios. I suspect it will work for basic lamps, but I am not so sure it will work with radios and many other devices. The reason is simple: in today's processor-controlled products, the power line does not actually turn the device on. (Of course, if you cut the AC power, the device does go off.)

The soft-switching and always-on design of most products of the past ten years or so means that turning on the AC power does not necessarily turn the on device's function as well. The so-called on/off or power switch on many of these devices is really just a low-voltage contact closure which is sensed by the circuitry within.

It looks like the long-running Clapper may be reaching the end of the road in terms of applicability. Perhaps some clever inventor will come up with a version where the person's clapping actually activates a solenoid-controlled finger to push the soft on/off button, rather than the AC line itself. Figuring out a way to easily fit the electronic finger to line up properly with that contact-closure button, and push it reliably, might be a mechanical challenge, I suspect.

So maybe it's just applications such as turning on basic lamps that will be the final stand and province of The Clapper. And even that application may be nearing its end game: if you listen to the pundits, home automation is one of the next big things, and a basic AC-line on/off wall switch will also be a thing of the past. Instead, the wall switch will be a low-voltage, networked signal, interpreted by a processor, which then directs the corresponding AC power outlet. If that happens, The Clapper will join the list of no-longer viable gadgets. ♦

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