Get a sneak peek of the new Particle Mesh hardware: hands-on with the Xenon

Originally published at: https://blog.particle.io/2018/08/30/hands-on-with-the-xenon/

This week, I had a chance to take three new Particle Xenon boards for a spin. Our engineering teams are hard at work polishing the firmware, mobile apps, and brand-new Mesh APIs, but I was able to walk through the basic experience of claiming and naming three Xenons, setting up a mesh network of three, and interacting with the devices from the Tinker app.

It was a lot of fun to get my hands dirty with our new hardware, and I wanted to share a few things that I think you’re gonna love about the new devices.


Feather form factor FTW!

It’s no secret that our new Mesh hardware will adhere to the Adafruit Feather form factor, which makes every Mesh device instantly compatible with the 50+ FeatherWing accessories that Adafruit produces. We’ve known this since Mesh was announced, sure. But unboxing these Xenons for the first time and seeing them IRL drove home for me just how awesome it’s going to be to add our new hardware to this thriving ecosystem. You’ll be able to drop a Xenon, Argon or Boron into a tripler with NeoPixel and OLED wings and take flight with your IoT dreams!

Yes, I just wrote a pun. I have no regrets.


Using Bluetooth to configure devices 🔥

At Particle, we’ve always worked hard to provide the smoothest device onboarding possible. We’ve done a lot in the past to lower the bar on getting a new Wi-Fi (Photon) or Cellular (Electron) solution online. Now that BLE is ubiquitous, we’re excited to introduce this technology as the preferred way to bring a new Particle Mesh device online. I got all three of my Xenons configured via Bluetooth in a matter of minutes, and was impressed by how smoothly it went.

Thanks again to the Herculean efforts by our amazing engineers, Bluetooth-based device configuration is about to get a whole lot easier. Welcome to the IoT connectivity club, Bluetooth.


Using Bluetooth to set up a Particle Mesh network 🔥🔥

But wait, there’s more! Beyond onboarding of new devices, you’ll be able to use Bluetooth to create new Mesh networks, manage device roles (gateways, repeaters, and endpoints), obtain device diagnostics, and more!

Once I got my first Xenon configured, I dropped it into an Ethernet FeatherWing and set it up as a gateway on a brand-new Mesh network. Then, I joined the other two Xenons to the network and had, as a co-worker pointed out, the largest Mesh network in the state of Texas. Ye haw!

Just as it was with onboarding my Xenons, using Bluetooth to configure the mesh network was painless and took me just a few minutes, start to finish.


Calling cloud functions on an endpoint, through a gateway? 🤯🤯🤯

This last one just might be my favorite.

Once I got all of my Xenons claimed and joined to my fancy new Mesh network, I opened up the Particle Console and clicked on one of my endpoint devices. I configured all three Xenons with our Tinker firmware, so I had read and write access on all the digital and analog pins. Just as our Photons and Electrons do today, every Mesh device has a blue LED wired to pin D7. I set D7 to HIGH using the digitalWrite cloud function and clicked the Call button.

Tinker Cloud Functions on a Xenon

The amazing part about all of this is that my Xenon has no direct connection to the internet and thus, the Particle Device Cloud! Behind the scenes, calling that cloud function triggers a magical set of steps whereby the Device Cloud finds my gateway and dispatches a message to my endpoint, which the gateway receives and then forwards on with ease. It sounds both easy and magical because our engineers have made it so.

I’ve been using Particle devices for a long time, but I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun turning that D7 blue LED on and off again using the console.

I know that many of you are just as excited as I have been to get your hands on our new Particle Mesh devices, and I’m happy to say that I think you’re gonna love them. And, if you’ve not yet preordered your Mesh devices, there’s still time. The preorder store will be open until September 10th, so head on over and reserve your spot in line!

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Thank you for the sneak peak Brandon, you’re just making the wait harder…
One question though: I see that an external antenna is always attached to the Xenon although I remember that the Bluetooth/mesh network antenna is integrated on the pcb for all mesh devices? In some other pictures of the latest version of the Xenon I can see a printed antenna located where there’s a hand written tag in the pictures in your post.
Can you confirm that an external antenna is just optional on the Xenon?

Hi @jaafar! I hear you, but the wait is nearly over! :smiley:

You are correct, the external antenna is optional for the Xenon and we will use the PCB antenna by default for Thread/BLE communication.

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Great post, Brandon… thanks for this update. Now that you’ve finished your write up, can you loan me a Xenon or two for experimentation?

Super post!!! Thank you! Any chance you can test the Mesh range and offer some thoughts on real world experience?

Nice try, @jimini! :grin:

I’m hard at work on other upcoming, Xenon-based projects, so these things are getting a workout.

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I appreciate that… how about we try range testing from my place in CO? Send one over and I’ll crank it up.

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Thanks @ctmorrison, I can do some in-the-wild testing on my end. I’ll also check with our devices team and share some of the results of their official testing since it was done at scale with a large number of devices.

Hi @bsatrom, could you tell us which Xenons pins are used to communicate with the Wiznet chip? On the featherwing, the connections are permanent between the Xenon and Wiznet chip, and I assume it’s the following:
SCK (D13)
MOSI (D12)
MISO (D11)
CS (D5)
I’m guessing they are the same as the Adafruit Featherwing accessory. Is that the case?
Thanks,
Tom

Hi @tommy_boy, yes, those mappings are consistent with what we’re using on the Xenon.

@ctmorrison Still working on testing on my end, but our devices team is telling me that you can reliably expect ranges of 20-30 meters, though we regularly observed more under certain conditions. It’s important to note that the range will vary depending on noise in the 2.54 GHz band wherever you’re deploying these mesh networks, for instance, you’ll get better range in an open field than in a residential area where WiFi APs abound.

Hope that helps!

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I’m hoping they’ll publish some info on the mesh API at least a couple of weeks before the hardware ships. Why not let us get the reading done in advance so we can hit the ground running when our preorders show up?

It’ll be annoying using a Xenon as a fidget toy as I read the docs.

Thanks for this bit of info!

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New to all this, have a LTL (Lot To Learn). Pre-Ordered Argon, Boron LTE and Xenons.
Have had a vision and hope the Mesh devices will help put it together. Access Gate opens and Mesh turns on remote Solar Panel/Battery Powered CCTV camera to record customer’s actions or non customer’s actions!

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Back to LTL (Lot to Learn) I feel I have looked through the information about Pre-Ordering the Mesh devices. Do the ordered items come as a Development Kit with software?

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What do you mean with “with software”?
As with the previous devices all software needed to develop projects with these devices will be available online.

There is a Web IDE which also hosts a wide set of libraries and the docs should get you started quite quickly.

But if you are looking for anything specific in addition to that, could you elaborate?

Sorry, just pre-ordered Argon, Boron LTE and Xenon and will be my first journey with Particle. I am trying to learn as much as I can through the Community searches.
I will come back with more specific questions when I can ask more informed questions.
LTL (Lot to Learn)

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Hey @stovalldb, thanks for pre-ordering, and welcome! I love your idea and I’m excited to see you bring it to live with the new Mesh hardware!

And no worries about the question, its a good one! Our products do include both free web-based and offline development tooling, so once you have the devices in-hand, you have everything you need to get rolling!

Welcome again, and feel free to hit us up anytime with questions, informed or otherwise, we’re here to help! :slight_smile:

Brandon

I just received my Xenon and a FeatherWing OLED display. I was hoping I could plug the OLED into the top of the Xenon, but the Xenon came with pins already soldered in place. Is it possible to get a Xenon I can drop a FeatherWing onto? I’d love to make it into a wearable.

I believe you would have to de-solder the pins already on the Xenon and replace with female stacking headers. There are no “headerless” mesh devices in the Particle store yet… and it will probably take a while before you see them there. Here are a couple examples of female stacking headers if you don’t have them already:

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Hey @dkgoodman, one option would be to get an Adafruit FeatherWing Doubler or Tripler and pop the OED display in there. I’ve done this for a few of my Argons and they work great!

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