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Particle has launched a free cellular tier for IoT developers to create microcontroller devices that communicate over cell networks rather than WiFi. Through this change, developers and companies can prototype and deploy up to 100 devices before needing to upgrade.
Particle produces small microcontroller devices that act as a foundational component of IoT devices. These microcontrollers work similarly to Arduino-based microcontrollers like the Arduino itself or the wifi-enabled ESP devices. The decision between a microcontroller (such as Particle) or microcomputer (such as the Raspberry Pi) is often based on cost, battery life, and other aspects of what the IoT device is designed to do. While existing Particle boards and Raspberry Pi devices contain WiFi capabilities, the new enhancement expands the ability for battery-operated devices to operate out of range from WiFi with lower power draw from any attached LiPO battery.
Developers can create rapid prototypes through Particle’s online coding and device management platform. The code is written in the same C/C++ dialect used by Arduino devices to control the general purpose IO (GPIO) pins. These pins provide the microcontroller the ability to read other device signals, like reading a temperature sensor, controlling LEDs, or interacting with transistors and high power relays. Firmware can be flashed over USB or sent as over-the-air updates that do not count against the free data limit of 100,000 operations.
The core offering for Particle is the online platform for monitoring, deploying, and managing the connected IoT devices. This provides an online IDE for writing and pushing code, as well as sending firmware updates to specific devices that enhances or changes the functionality. Without a managed platform, developers would otherwise code in an IDE like PlatformIO and design their own connectivity backend that monitors device health and handles updates. Device updates and secure development practices are part of US Law HR 1668, the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020.
For prototype projects, Particle’s offering provides a way of sensing and interacting with the world at edge locations, even when away from WiFi. While many Arduino and ESP8266 tutorials exist to explain device assembly, developers can enhance their prototypes by learning the basics of electrical engineering.
Knowing basic electronics gives you so many possibilities. You are no longer limited to using the exact components you found in an online tutorial. Debugging becomes much easier since you’ll be able to understand if the value you’re reading from a pin makes sense – both from a coding point-of-view and an electronics point-of-view.
-Oyvind Dahl, founder and community lead of Ohmify, that teaches these electrical fundamentals.
Dahl expands on the capabilities of the Particle board, indicating how developers can control even more devices. “Developers can also learn about transistors. An output pin on the Photon board can only provide a current of 25 mA (milliamps) and a voltage of 5V. What if you want to turn on a high-intensity LED or a motor that needs 12V at 100 mA? If you know how to use the transistor, you can control whatever you want.”
Hardware is available now through the Particle store with LTE devices for North America and Global Kits for other continents.
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