After a year of crowd funding and development, Particle’s Electron development board is nearing release. Earlier this week Particle announced that it has began shipping Electron boards to its Kickstarter backers. Many of you might say, “Big deal, it's just another “Arduino,” but the Electron is way more than just another easy to use development board.
The Electron is the big brother to Particle’s Photon, a Wi-Fi based development board that utilizes Arduino-like sketches to send and receive data from its GPIO pins. The Electron is not Wi-Fi based though as it utilizes a GSM cellular radio for its IoT connectivity. This does mean that those wishing to build projects around the Electron will have to purchase a cellular data plan from Particle, something we will talk more about later in this article.
Launched last February, the Electron’s Kickstarter campaign raised $578,478 from 5,564 backers to help bring this project to life, making it widely successful before it even existed. The Electron features 28 Digital and Analog GPIO pins, UART, I2C, and SPI connectivity. A U-Blox SARA 2G / 3G cellular radio handles the mobile data connectivity, while an Arm Cortex M3 deals with the processing. The Electron features a built-in USB programming interface that doubles as its power connection. A NanoSIM slot is also on board to allow users to purchase a mobile data plan from Particle.io.
What sets the Electron appart from something like an Arduino GSM shield is its global data plan. This plan is based around a purpose built IoT SIM card that has been verified to work on cellular networks in over 100 countries around the world. This does mean that developing with the Electron will require a monthly subscription plan which cost less than $3 per month in the US for 1-megabyte of data. Each additional megabyte cost just $0.99. While this may sound like a very small amount of data, the Electron was not designed to stream large data sets, but rather small data packets from one machine to another. This could be something as simple as pushing a temperature reading up to a cloud data service, or sending a push notification to your mobile phone if a sensor detects a drop in temperature.
The Electron is not just for your everyday average tinkerer, novice users can utilize Arduino sketches to program the Electron, while skilled programmers can utilize C, C++ and Arm assembly code to get the ones and zeros flowing. The Electron is also capable of running a fork of Node.js called Particle.js which should allow even more programmers to utilize the Electron in their future projects. Programming can be accomplished with Particle’s Particle Build Web-based integrated development environment, Particle Build, a local IDE, as well Tinker, a mobile app that can remotely access the Electrons I/O.
A 2G cellular version of Electron will sell for $39 while the 3G version will cost $59. Head over to Particle.IO for more information. We hope to get an Electron Dev Kit in soon for a full review, and a project build.