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Particle Mesh Wi-Fi Bundle + Grove Sensor Kit - Review

Scoring

Product Performed to Expectations: 10
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 9
Demo Software was of good quality: 10
Product was easy to use: 10
Support materials were available: 10
The price to performance ratio was good: 9
TotalScore: 58 / 60
  • RoadTest: Particle Mesh Wi-Fi Bundle + Grove Sensor Kit
  • Buy Now
  • Evaluation Type: Development Boards & Tools
  • Was everything in the box required?: Yes
  • Comparable Products/Other parts you considered: Arduino boards like the Yun, MKR1000, Adafruit Feather etc. But having said that, I am not aware of a capable boards that are Mesh capable using thread.
  • What were the biggest problems encountered?: Rare connectivity issues with the particle cloud, via WiFi.

  • Detailed Review:

    Firstly I would like to thank element14 for the opportunity to participate in this road test, my main reason for applying for the road test was to learn about the mesh network and also figure out the range that we could get between the two boards, and also try out new particle mesh boards. For folks who are hearing about the particle.io for the first time, it is an open-source hardware and software platform for the internet of things(IoT), and is a great way to get started into internet of things if you are new to the IoT world. Particle.io has great documentation and if you get an Argon and Seeed Grove sensor bundle it is great way to get started, and experiment with the various sensors. And if you think you are interested in learning about the mesh network which should ideally be you next step, get a of the particle Xenon.

     

    Unboxing

    The unboxing experience was good, and Particle boards and components came in a well packaged element14 box. Each of the Particle Argon and 2 Xenons came in their own boxes as you see in the picture below. This kit came with a lot of components and here is a list of all the components I received for the road test

    • Argon Kit
    • 2 Xenon Kits
    • Particle FeatherWing Tripler
    • Particle Debugger
    • Grove Starter Kit for Particle Mesh

     

    Argon

    The Argon is a powerful Wi-Fi enabled development board that can act as either a standalone Wi-Fi endpoint or Wi-Fi enabled gateway for Particle Mesh networks. It is based on the Nordic nRF52840 and has built-in battery charging circuitry so it’s easy to connect a Li-Po and deploy your local network in minutes.The Argon is great for connecting existing projects to the Particle Device Cloud or as a gateway to connect an entire group of local endpoints. The argon box came with  USB cable, a breadboard, two resistors (220 ohm), one red LED, and one photodiode

     

    And here are some features

    Espressif

    • On-board 4MB flash for ESP32
    • 802.11 b/g/n support
    • 802.11 n (2.4 GHz), up to 150 Mbps

    Nordic Semiconductor nRF52840 SoC

    • ARM Cortex-M4F 32-bit processor @ 64MHz
    • 1MB flash, 256KB RAM
    • IEEE 802.15.4-2006: 250 Kbps
    • Bluetooth 5: 2 Mbps, 1 Mbps, 500 Kbps, 125 Kbps
    • Supports DSP instructions, HW accelerated Floating Point Unit (FPU) calculations
    • ARM TrustZone CryptoCell-310 Cryptographic and security module
    • Up to +8 dBm TX power (down to -20 dBm in 4 dB steps)
    • NFC-A tag

    On-board additional 4MB SPI flash

    20 mixed signal GPIO (6 x Analog, 8 x PWM), UART, I2C, SPI

    Micro USB 2.0 full speed (12 Mbps)

    Integrated Li-Po charging and battery connector

    JTAG (SWD) Connector

    RGB status LED

    Reset and Mode buttons

    On-board PCB antenna

    U.FL connector for external antenna

    Meets the Adafruit Feather specification in dimensions and pinout

    FCC, CE and IC certified

    RoHS compliant (lead-free)

     

    For more info check out the datasheet section at – https://docs.particle.io/datasheets/wi-fi/argon-datasheet/

     

    Xenon

     

    The Xenon is a low cost mesh-enabled development board that can act as either an endpoint or repeater within a Particle Mesh network.The Xenon is mesh only and designed to function as the endpoint of your IoT network. It is based on the Nordic nRF52840 and has built-in battery charging circuitry so it’s easy to connect a Li-Po and deploy your local network in minutes.The Xenon is best for connecting sensors, motors, pumps, valves, and points of data-interest. Pair it with an Argon or Boron gateway to get all that great data into the Device Cloud.

    Features

    Nordic Semiconductor nRF52840 SoC

    • ARM Cortex-M4F 32-bit processor @ 64MHz
    • 1MB flash, 256KB RAM
    • IEEE 802.15.4-2006: 250 Kbps
    • Bluetooth 5: 2 Mbps, 1 Mbps, 500 Kbps, 125 Kbps
    • Supports DSP instructions, HW accelerated Floating Point Unit (FPU) calculations
    • ARM TrustZone CryptoCell-310 Cryptographic and security module
    • Up to +8 dBm TX power (down to -20 dBm in 4 dB steps)
    • NFC-A tag

    On-board additional 4MB SPI flash

    20 mixed signal GPIO (6 x Analog, 8 x PWM), UART, I2C, SPI

    Micro USB 2.0 full speed (12 Mbps)

    Integrated Li-Po charging and battery connector

    JTAG (SWD) Connector

    RGB status LED

    Reset and Mode buttons

    On-board PCB antenna

    U.FL connector for external antenna

    Meets the Adafruit Feather specification in dimensions and pinout

    FCC, CE and IC certified

    RoHS compliant (lead-free)

    For more info check out - https://docs.particle.io/datasheets/mesh/xenon-datasheet/

     

    Grove Shield for Particle Mesh

     

    The kit comes with seven different components that work out-of-the-box with Particle Mesh hardware and let you focus on learning the basics. Working with Starter Kit requires no soldering and minimal wiring, basically for the wiring it come with plug and play cables. Also wanted to mention that when I was unboxing the grove kit and comparing it to the other grove kits that I got for the Arduino and Intel Edison, the sensors are put into antistatic bags and placed in the box, compared to getting a hard plastic light green box  which is much easier to store and every sensor has a spot in the box (https://youtu.be/1Rc_OiebDPo).

    Here are the features of the sensor that come in the box.

    • Grove Shield for Particle Mesh - Plug and play your Particle Mesh Argon or Boron in the FeatherWing form factor; includes Grove connectors (3 Digital, 2 analog, 2 I2C_1, 1 UART)
    • Button - A momentary push button that uses Standard 4-pin Grove Cables to connect to other Grove modules
    • Rotary Angle Sensor - Also known as a ‘potentiometer’, this sensor produces analog output between 0 and Vcc
    • Ultrasonic Ranger - A non-contact distance measurement module working at 40KHz
    • Temp and Humidity Sensor - Highly reliable and integrated temperature and humidity sensor, this is a DHT11
    • Light Sensor v1.2 - Integrates a photo-resistor to detect light intensity and can be used to build a light controlled switch
    • Chainable RGB LED - Full-color LED driver with 3 constant-current drivers as well as modulated output of 256 shades of gray
    • Buzzer - Easy to use piezoelectric buzzer with a sound output of >85dB
    • 4-Digit Display - Red alpha-numeric display with 8 adjustable luminance levels

    For more info check out - https://store.particle.io/products/grove-starter-kit

     

    Particle FeatherWing Tripler

    The Tripler provides space to add-on up to two FeatherWing accessories without any stacking header needs. Compatible with the newest generation of Particle developer kits. The Tripler has three breakouts for each pin on a Feather, as well as plain grid proto holes. In addition, three sets of pins are cross connected with a full strip of connected pads for GND and 3.3V. The bag which came with the trippler contains one Tripler printed circuit board (PCB), and three sets of FeatherWing headers. To test this I also bought an Adafruit OLED wing as you see in the project demo below.

    Particle Debugger

    The Particle Debugger gives you the power of professional debugging at a fraction of the cost. Using this accessory, you’ll be able to program Particle mesh-ready hardware over common interfaces like JTAG and SWD, using open source tools like GDB.Supports the open source CMSIS-DAP specification and DAPLink firmware developed by ARM. And comes with one JTAG ribbon cable, I currently have not yet tested the particle debugger as most of my tests include flashing code via the web IDE.

     

    Setting up an Argon

     

    To setup your Argon you will have to follow the setps at  - https://docs.particle.io/quickstart/argon/ . Basically you will have create an account on Particle website and then use the Android/iOS app to scan the sticker on the Argon, and then connect to your home WiFi and also have it show up in the particle cloud. Here updating the device os on the Argon took me a few minutes , it was done in 3 parts.

     

    My suggestion is to download the Android/iOS app directly from the respective app store, instead of using the online instructions which ask you for your mobile number to send you a text with the app link.

     

    Setting up a Xenon

    The setup for Xenon via the Android app can be slightly confusing, basically you need to scan the sticker on the Xenon, it then takes the Xenon a few mins to complete the update, this again is a 3 part update. Once that is done you will have to scan the sticker of the devices that is already part of the Mesh network, which in my case is Argon(at this point don’t forget to press the mode button on Argon for 3 seconds/until the led starts blinking blue) In addition, you will also have to have a your Mesh network password ready to add the Xenon to the Mesh.This took me four tries to figure out.

     

    For more details on the setup check - https://docs.particle.io/quickstart/xenon/

     

     

    Particle Cloud

    The Particle device Cloud is built to work with particle devices and particle devices are pre-configured to communicate with Device Cloud. It's a seamless integration to help keep you moving fast and focused.Device Cloud gives you intuitive and powerful device management features that just work. You can use either the Device Console or Rest API to use these tools to oversee your IoT deployment. In addition to the awesome documentation at - https://docs.particle.io/, here are some features that I found to be real useful from a production stand point, compared to other IoT hardware + cloud platforms out there.

     

    Health Check

    Signaling – if you have the Argon and Xenon close to you, you can use this to change/cycle the color of the RGB led.

    Ping – this is the fastest way to tell you if you device is online , if it is in a spot that is not reachable

     

    For more info check out - https://www.particle.io/device-cloud/

     

    Trying the function variable sketch using the Web IDE

    After trying the blink sketch successfully , and getting the on-board led on the Argon to blink. I used the Grove shield to connect the Argon and then connected the potentiometer(Pot) to A0 pin using one of the grove connector cables. I modified the example function variable program to get the analog value of the Pot as you see in the picture below.

     

    Posting temperature and humidity to the particle cloud using DHT11

    The next example I tried is to use the DHT11 which came in as part of the Grove bundle, and I also used to RGB led to remind me if I need to switch on the air conditioner. Ideally I should have used the relay to connect to my air conditioner if the temperature goes above a certain threshold, but I live in an apartment and don’t want my building manger to get mad at me..

     

     

    Testing the FeatherWing Tripler

    To get the FeatherWing Tripler working I have to solder the pin header which came with the Tripler , and to test this I used the Adafruit FeatherWing OLED - 128x32 OLED .  The OLED  feather wing also has a reset button and three mini tactile buttons called A B and C, so you can add a mini user interface. In my case, I am displaying text when the button is pressed and OLED connects to the Xenon using I2C.

    For more info on the OLED feather wing check out - https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-oled-featherwing/overview and https://docs.particle.io/community/feather/

     

    Trying out the Particle Mesh network

    Particle Mesh is a wireless mesh network technology built on the Thread networking protocol(originally created by Google-Nest team), and designed to connect the spaces in between existing Wi-Fi and cellular deployments with local networks that are low-cost, secure, and ultra-reliable. Basically, traditional IoT devices that use Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity rely on the cloud to transit between devices. However, Particle Mesh builds gateways to the Internet which in my case is the Argon, and creates a local wireless grid that other devices can join, the other devices here are the Xenon. Particle Mesh provides a local network for every IoT device to understand and connect the world around it.  This is my first time trying a Mesh network and I have to say the particle team has made it easy to get start with mesh networking with a combination of Argon and Xenon. Here is a great blog learn more about selecting a role for your devices  - https://blog.particle.io/2018/04/20/particle-mesh-102-selecting-a-role-for-your-device/

    In terms of range between the Argon and Xenon , I would say I got about 55 meter of range, and for this I had a neighbor move the potentiometer on the Argon  from my apartment balcony, and I walked to the closet traffic signal with the Xenon connected to the OLED feather wing. But having said that this is not a line of sight test. In the coming weeks, I also plan on taking advantage of the uFL connector on Xenon board to check if I get a longer range.

     

    Conclusion

     

    • I have used the spark core from particle.io couple of years ago and this kit – Particle Argon and Xenon is surely a step up, compared to a couple of years ago there have been huge improvement to the particle cloud and mobile app. And the addition of mesh networking capability which means you can connect locally in a network , without having every device ping cloud every time, makes for some interesting an useful use cases, and should be ideal for an industrial setting.
    • With respect to the documentation, this has also seen a great improvement from the spark core days, and it is beginner friendly and very detailed.
    • Particle cloud has a bunch of features which makes it easy to monitor and send over the air updates to the particle devices, which is something that network/IoT administrator will appreciate in a production environment, and yes it is all inbuilt.
    • With respect to feature I would like to see is a serial monitor which would make debugging code easier. And also support for 5V sensor, but having said that I am guessing you can find similar/same sensors for 3.3V.
    • I also see there are a bunch of cloud integrations with IFTTT(which I have tried earlier with Spark Core), and will be trying Google Cloud and Maps in the coming months and reporting back with some more updates.
    • Also wanted to mention if you reading this and new to the IoT space, this is really a great kit to get started with, and Grove bundle is a must buy, which makes it easy to get started with sensor/posting data to the cloud and also doing some basic Mesh networks tests, with no soldering required.
    • In addition, since the new particle devices (Argon and Xenon) are in the feather wing form factor, it makes the whole plug and play and prototyping even more impressive, as there are a bunch feather wing available from Adafruit.com (https://www.adafruit.com/category/814) and Lady Ada keeps adding to list every couple of month.

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