General Particle questions (complete noob)


#1

Hello, I’m extremely new to this sort of stuff (building IoT). I’ve been doing a lot of research the past few days and I want to get some general confirmations before I sink real money, because it makes sense to double check with knowledgeable people :slight_smile: .

So here’s my thing - I was looking for this sort of functionality to build a animal tracker / fitness tracker. I wasn’t sure which I wanted to do first, but I was researching with the following in mind:

  1. Must be able to track real time GPS and give updates to a dashboard or webpage or app.
  2. As such, needs to be mobile and work anywhere, and not within a fixed range of 1km or something.
  3. Small enough hardware that it can fit on a harness for a cat or dog.
  4. For the fitness tracker side of things,there’s not much else I’d need (including 1-3) besides the ability to figure out how long I ran for, or the pace, etc. Which should be easily doable with math. I think what I’m looking at will give me a file where I can code it all.

So with that all in mind, I talked to a stranger and we delved into this. In the end, since I need a mobile solution, he recommended doing the Particle Boron (and the LiPo battery (I tried finding a battery with at least 1200mAh but I could not find a cheaper battery than LiPo, AND it’s 2000mAh. Am I being ignorant, or is the LiPo battery great? (Probably not the best place to ask since there will be bias, but I was amazed I couldn’t find a cheaper battery).

So, sorry for the ramble, but that’s what was decided upon. Will the Particle Boron and LiPo be enough? Should I be looking at something else? Because the above solution is $62 and I’m all about saving money.

Last question - is the Xenon basically like a Boron, but it’s more for static things, like maybe a smart doorbell or some Home IoT thing? The way it was explained to me, is it uses a mesh network (which duckduckgo’ing tells me is basically a local intranet). If I wanted to do a smart doorbell, or some other home hardware thingy, would Xenon and LiPo combo be good? Or should I get a dev kit? I’m really new and I’m trying hard to research this stuff, but I need expert advice.

Finally, let me share that I’m a web developer, so I’m more of a coder than a hardware person; bare with me :slight_smile: . Great to meet you all.


#2

The Xenon is mesh only - so it would only work for local Bluetooth or in conjunction with a Boron or Argon, to my understanding.

The Boron + LiPo will do everything you need if you get a GPS shield. The Boron does not have GPS built in. Take a look at this post for details on how someone else has done it.


#3

What’s a GPS Shield? What would be great uses for a Xenon, vs Argon, vs Boron? I need a GPS Shield, yes? Are there specific ones that only work with Boron? Or am I misuderstanding?

I did see that post, but the author is using a lot of material and I was trying to see if I could minimize it. This world of IoT is overwhelming for me.


#4

A “shield” is just something that essentially is an adapter for the pins on your boron (or other device) that provides an extension of functionality in some way.

You need something to provide GPS because the boron does not have GPS built in. The Boron uses the Featherwing footprint (size and function of pins and such), so you can use a gps device like this one from adafruit (same as the link) and solder it onto your Boron (or solder headers so you can unplug it if you want to).

That said, the link I posted is about as simple as it gets. By using this shield instead you don’t need to use the Tripler or the OLED screen (which you don’t seem to need). If you just skip those parts, you can still follow the tutorial exactly. It doesn’t get much simpler than:

  1. Buy the pieces
  2. Connect the pieces (including soldering)
  3. Program the Boron to work with the GPS using a library
  4. Put in a box

Which is functionally all that is going on in that tutorial. You may need to be more specific about what parts are confusing if you need more help.


#5

Just keep in mind that the GPS works best outdoors with a clear view of the sky.
You wont likely be tracking the location of a Cat or Dog indoors, or outdoors in areas with poor GPS reception.


#6

True, but with an external GPS antenna, such as in the referenced tutorial, I imagine one could get passably good reception indoors in reasonable circumstances.


#7

I wouldn’t need it for this specific project, but maybe some home IoT thing, sure :slight_smile: . Thanks.

Ok so a shield basically is an adaptor that can connect to the Boron - I think I can understan that.

The GPS tracking would exclusively be for outdoors. I don’t care where my animals are inside my house. I want to start letting my cats out the neighborhood but I want to track them. I live on the east coast (USA) so I have decent reception / GPS I’d think.

So to build what I want, I’d need

  1. Boron as a base
  2. https://www.adafruit.com/product/3133 to provide GPS
  3. LiPo battery.

Sorry to bring this back to price, but I’ve seen businesses offer products similar to what I’m looking for, for a cheaper price. Is there a way to do this cheaper? The Boron + battery + the adafruit product totals ~ 100 dollars. I really am not trying to be whiny - just doing my due diligence to see if there is a better hardware stack :slight_smile: . Really appreciative of the fast and helpful replies!

And to bring this back, I’m not entirely sure I understood the answer to this question. @justicefreed_amper mentioned that this would only work for local bluetooth - so would I be able to get away with Xenon + LiPo for something like a homemade doorbell or security camera or something? Or would that be a wrong use case?


#8

F.e. https://getfindster.com/

To an inexperienced person, this sounds like a great product, but perhaps there are a lot of downsides to this product that I’m not aware of. I just saw this and figured that they are making this for 30 dollars or something around that, if they want to make a hefty profit (and no monthly fees!)


#9

so would I be able to get away with Xenon + LiPo for something like a homemade doorbell or security camera or something? Or would that be a wrong use case?

Not really, no. Bluetooth doesn’t get you to the internet. Bluetooth connects you to another local device. So you would have to setup another device anyways, so it would only make sense to use a Xenon if you already setup a mesh network for home automation with an Argon.

Sorry to bring this back to price, but I’ve seen businesses offer products similar to what I’m looking for, for a cheaper price. Is there a way to do this cheaper? The Boron + battery + the adafruit product totals ~ 100 dollars.

The issue is this: the Boron is way overbuilt for just tracking. It’s made to be a full-blown, user-programmable microprocessor system with Cloud access built in. It’s not optimized to be a production-ready asset tracker. You can make it one, but if you just want to own an asset tracker, you are not likely to save money. If you want to do custom stuff with an asset tracker, yes it makes sense. If you want to learn and grow in your hardware / DIY skills, absolutely it makes sense.

Once you build a product at scale, it gets way cheaper when you strip out the parts you don’t need for your application. Building it yourself you don’t get that luxury. Most DIY things for a commercially available electronics product don’t save you money unless you need customization. Kinda just depends on what kinda path you want to take!


#10

I mean, looks like a fantastic product. If the 3 mi limitation works for you and reviews are good in urban environments (eg building reflections, line of sight), and all you need is a tracker, I bet it would be great to have!


#11

My guess is that it uses a LoRa radio, or something similar. A FCC certified module alone will cost more than $30.
To me, that looks like a great product for locating a pet nearby, very small, and a decent price point.


#12

Thank you for that explanation. So just for an asset/GPS tracker, it’s overblown, but it’d be great for learning.

Your explanation makes sense.

I’m not sure why I asked that bluetooth question, obviously bluetooth isn’t the same as being on the Internet, derp.

It would, that’s why I thought to try to build something similar but DIY! It’d be fun to have this as a hobby.

So I took another look at that tutorial you gave. It seems to be great.

This is probably a stupid question, but is there a good place to buy soldering equipment for this project? I’m starting from scratch! If all soldering is the same, I can just grab whatever from homedepot, or wherever (amazon, etc).

So my hardware I need is…

  1. Boron (52)
  2. That GPS Shield (40)

Do you think these parts are worth getting? And how’s it powered if the coin cell battery is optional? From particles website

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

So I’d still need a LiPo? The tutorial doesn’t have it, so I assume I don’t need one, but I’m just curious…thanks for baring with me.

Actually, the article says it assumes Boron is set up, and when I go to particles setup website…https://setup.particle.io/

It mentions that I need the LiPo battery, a USB cable, and a cellular antenna?


#13

Right? Not to be a mooch, or lazy, but what hardware would I need to replicate something like that?


#14

is there a good place to buy soldering equipment for this project? I’m starting from scratch! If all soldering is the same, I can just grab whatever from homedepot, or wherever (amazon, etc).

I would get something like this to start. This can work for a wide range of projects, especially with the set of tips and some ESD safe tweezers for surface mount soldering work.

Do you think these parts are worth getting? And how’s it powered if the coin cell battery is optional?

The Li-Po powers everything. It is essential. The coin battery powers only one thing, the RTC (real-time-clock) of the GPS unit. This means you can boot up faster by not requiring a time sync first over GPS for the GPS unit. When the device is powered down (Li-Po runs out or is unplugged), the GPS will lose time unless the RTC is powered by the backup coin cell battery. If you are always going to leave it charged / use it in a continuous use case I suppose it may not matter a ton, but it’s super easy to buy and install so I’d say do it.

The antenna and adapter cable will give you better reception. Not necessary right away, so go ahead and test it without. You may want them later pending performance without them.

Edit:

Actually, the article says it assumes Boron is set up, and when I go to particles setup website…https://setup.particle.io/
It mentions that I need the LiPo battery, a USB cable, and a cellular antenna?

Yeah, the Boron comes with the cellular antenna, which is required. All the above means is the device has to be ready to connect to the cell network / internet, which requires it being powered on and for you to get its deviceID over USB. You can set up without the LiPo if you power it over USB to start, too, but the LiPo is recommended.


#15

That would be pretty difficult to implement and would be likely way (or way way) more expensive than the boron solution. It requires multiple pieces of hardware, specialized radios, and you’d probably be violating FCC unless you got kinda lucky and found the perfect hardware pre certified. Way easier to just build one thing :slight_smile:


#16

I’ll definitely bookmark this to buy! It’s my birthday coming up so maybe my girlfriend will have some hints dropped to her… :wink: .

Great, that’s a great explanation. Makes perfect sense!

On another topic, not to stray too far from these topics, but is there a general "beginners guide’ to this circuitry work (what’s the proper name for what this hobby is?) I’m looking at Argon on particles website trying to understand it (sounds like Argon is great for in-home wifi solutions, like a doorbell?) and I’m looking at all the specs and different technical jargon and I realize if I’m ever going to get caught up on this stuff, I need to sit down and learn it!

Then again, I’m more of a “learn it from doing it” sorta guy so perhaps I should just buy this equpment and get to work!

Thanks for everything… I’m buying

  1. The soldering kit you linked
  2. Boron
  3. LiPo battery
  4. https://www.adafruit.com/product/3133
  5. Some sort of container, which I’m not sure what I’ll use, but maybe I can find something.

Those are the only REQUIRED tools to get my project done you think? (I ask because it’s very annoying to sit down on a weekend and attempt something, only to realize I don’t have everything I need - I’m sure you can empathize with my feeling). You’ve been a huge help, I really mean it. If you do know of a beginners tutorial encompassing basic principles and whatnot, I’d appreciate it.

I feel like more of this will also make sense when I have it in my hands, and can see for myself what’s going on. Right now all I have are Internet articles and dreams.

Hah, well I guess that serves me right. Thanks.


#17

Those should be the only tools you’ll need (besides a computer and free software tools).

Also - the Boron comes with a breadboard and an LED and resistor and such - I highly recommend getting it all set up and get comfortable with programming the LED on and off and such before you get too far into it.

Finally, I recommend soldering the headers that come with your GPS device into the device instead of the Boron directly. That way the Boron is still removable. See the last image on the product page for details.

Edit:
You’ll probably also want a multimeter if you don’t already have one for troubleshooting! Not strictly necessary though.


#18

Homeowner with minimal electrical experience (e.g. ceiling fan installed, doorbell, thermometer for HVAC unit, etc). I have one! Woo hoo. Saving money.

After taxes for everything, and shipping cost (I added in the 3 optional), I’m looking at $174.90

Soldering (order 1)
 -- 36.87 1 item
 -- 11.37 shipping
 -- TOTAL IS 48.24

Adafruit (order 2)
 -- 44.85 (36.87+3.95+0.95) GPS + 2 optional items
 -- 10.13 shipping + 2.69 tax
 -- TOTAL IS 57.67

Particle (order 3)
 -- 62 (9+53) (battery and boron)
 -- shipping is 6.99
 -- TOTAL IS 68.99

#19

Hey again, I have some another questions, and I wasn’t sure whether to make a whole new thread about it. Someone can split this into a new thread if they want (not sure what version of Discourse this site is, but I imagine higher level people can :slight_smile: ) .

The soldering station listed…I was looking more into soldering (aka learning it) and I realized there is some stuff I’ll need to buy, correct?

https://www.circuitspecialists.com/75-Watt-CSI-Soldering-Station.html

From what I’ve been reading, I’ll need a brass sponge to clean the tips off. Also, there are apparently different tips of a soldering device (makes sense). The link above comes with a chisel tip. Should I buy more tips? Is that chisel tip enough?

Also, based on this tutorial there are a lot of tools to get!

I was wondering what’s NEEDED or what is recommended to get? And if there’s some place that has a kit of everything I’d need? F.e., home depot sells painting kits that have paint rollers, rolling sponges, a paint bin, etc.