What a time to be alive! It’s never been easier to get into electronics and programming with platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Chibitronics and many more. These platforms are great, but with the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming more and more embedded into our lives, the maker community cried out for a true maker solution. Here enters Particle.
Hey guys, it’s Sam here from Core Electronics and today we’re going to be taking a look at Particle.io. Now Particle, formally known as Spark was a group of software developers who wanted to bring the power and versatility that is cloud computing and data to the microcontroller platform which allows for easy control of inputs and outputs and communication to other devices and the ability to really create your own maker electronics that you can program. For a while that’s been a bit of a stumbling block for DIY and maker electronics that you’ve got all these fantastic brands like Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Chipitronics that are making it more and more accessible for people of any age or skill level to get into electronics but IoT, the internet of things has always been a bit of a stumbling block for a lot of people. Its easy to understand why as it can be quite complex sometimes dealing with cloud data, push pull requests and http protocols and things like that. So the guys at Particle have wanted to work out a way to allow anyone who has used Arduino or anyone who hasn’t even looked at a microcontroller to be able to use the internet of things and be able to create their own IoT device.
What they have bought to us now is two boards, the Photon and the Electron. The Proton is a WiFi enabled microcontroller and t he Electron is a 3G cellular enabled microcontroller. So Particle have actually developed their own SoC (System on Chip) so you can see on this Photon here, that little silver square - that has actually go in it an ARM Cortex Microprocessor at 120 Mhz its got huge processing power, a Broadcom WiFi chip along with all of your flash and RAM and things like that. Broken out onto a board with your WiFi antenna and header pins and USB connection and all that kind of thing. The Electron is quite similar, we’ve got our cellular 3G module here, extended iO pins, we’ve now got 4 registers of input and output. Your set up and mode buttons are as on the Photon, USB a JST connector for battery and then the microcontrollers are actually underneath here on that processor there and a bit more circuitry and as you can see the Photon it’s all shown on the top board. So that is the hardware side, and then along with that they’ve got Particle.io which is their cloud platform now there’s a few different elements to this so let’s take a look.
First up we’ve got Dashboard on Particle Cloud, now it’s now called the Console - Particle has done a rename but it works exactly the same. So on the Dashboard as we can see (i’ll go over and open that up) it’s a way for you to monitor all your devices and you can see what’s going on. You can see the status logs, you can create your own web hooks, you can create an organisation account where you can push firmware updates over the air to all your devices and stacks more, you can view all your billing details. So I’ll just go ahead and log on here, alrighty now as you can see you can view your devices here and the status. So none of them are connected at the moment, see that circle there, that gives you the device modes, you can go through and view products that you have created using the Particle gear, logs, event logs, data and things like that, your integrations - so your web hooks connecting to external web services and your billing. Now the billing only applies for your Electron because it’s a 3G board you do have to use a SIM card to get it connected to the cloud but fortunately when you buy the Electron Particle include their own SIM card and they’ve actually set up a soft SIM carry network around the world.
It works in almost every country and pretty much you put it in and they take care of everything about the network connection. They use the best network available and they have created a really simple pricing structure here. Now you might look at $2.99 per MB and think what! I can get almost 1 GIG nowadays for 5 or 10 bucks but when you look at it you are not actually using anywhere near that much data with the Electron. You are only sending strings and bytes and small packets of data and so a MB will actually last you a long time if you are clever with how you use it. The main advantage here is it will work anywhere, you don’t have to worry about setting up your carrier or things like that but you also can set it up to use a 3rd Party SIM card. So you know, the SIM in your phone which has just got that micro SIM card slot there, or nano - which ever one it is. So we’ll keep looking at Particle Cloud, now we’ve got the Documentation Sections, that is where you’ve got all of your data sheets, all go down here and it’s got everything from how to use different firmware functions, all of the cloud functions along with pinouts of both devices. We can see that we are on the Photon here, you can look at coding examples, web hook examples, how to make your own html page where you can control these devices from and thats really cool.
The biggest thing here is the Build area, so with the Particle system the IDE is all cloud based, all of your programs, your apps, your libraries, they are all stored on the cloud, you don’t have to worry about any kind of local storage. So we’ll take a look at that. Now you might notice if you’ve come from using Arduino a few familiar things. You’ve got your void setup and your void loop and thats because they’ve actually used the same software abstraction called wiring in this which is designed to make the C programming language even easier to use so you can use functions like digital read, digital write, analogue read, analogue write and all those kind of really easy to get started kind of programming conventions that you might be used to. This is based around C++ rather than C which is the Arduino language, pretty similar but, you know a bit of different versatility and options between the two. But if you have ever used Arduino you’ll be right at home and if you haven’t it only takes a few minutes to get started writing your own first program.
You’ve also got the Community and that is kind of your forum, support area for projects, tech support, issues you might have, questions about everything, much the same as any other forum and there’s a fantastic community there along with great project ideas.
Then you’ve got your Setup page where you can set up your new Electron. Now you only need to do that with your Electron, the Photon sets up a little bit differently and if you want to know a bit more about setting both of these devices up we’ve got tutorials on both of them so check them out, they’re great reads and we can go through the setup process there.
If you are anything like me and the idea of a small IoT 3G/WiFi connected board for the price of less than the price of some of the more expensive Arduinos or Raspberry Pis, if that excites you then I highly recommend you get one of these. Check it out, you’ll have so much fun programming these, so much connectivity you know running at 120MHz ARM Cortex Processors - they pack a punch, there’s plenty of processing power so yeah, check those out and check out our other tutorials and we’ll have a look at how we can set up both these devices. See you guys :-)