This weeks EYE ON NPI (video) is on track to being our favorite yet – it’s the Particle Tracker One from our BFF particle.io! The Tracker One is, as the name suggests, an all-in-one asset tracker that contains an LTE cellular module (Quectel EG91-EX), WiFi module (ESP32) and BLE main processor (nRF52840) all with support for Particle’s famed IoT coding/deployment cloud.
- Includes the asset tracker SoM mounted on carrier board and installed in an IP67-rated enclosure
- Cellular: highly reliable LTE CAT M1 (NA) (Quectel BG96), LTE CAT 1 with 3G, 2G fallback (EMEAA) (Quectel EG91-EX)
- IP67-rated M8 connector includes CAN Bus, UART, GPIO, and power for simple expansion
- GNSS provided by u-blox NEO-M8U with onboard dead-reckoning for up to 1.8 m CEP50 GPS accuracy
- Wi-Fi® location via onboard ESP32 with SSID scanning for third-party Wi-Fi location services
- Powerful and efficient MCU: Nordic Semiconductor nRF52840 SoC Arm® Cortex®-M4F 32-bit processor at 64 MHz with 1 MB Flash, 256 KB RAM, and Bluetooth®
- Flexible power supply accepts 4.5 V to 30 V power supply (105 V may be used if connecting power direct to the carrier board without using the M8 connector). Also accepts 5 V supply via USB-C. Switched LiPo battery connector, charge LED, backup battery for GPS and RTC
- PMIC and fuel gauge: integrated power management, LiPo charger, and battery connector
- High-precision thermistor: with accuracy to 1%
- USB-C®: for flashing, debugging, and power with higher charging rates than micro-USB
- RGB LED: for use as both a user-configurable device as well as Particle status information
- Backup battery: for RTC and GNSS
- Open asset tracker library: complete, ready-to-use asset-tracking application enables rapid implementation and time to market
- Extensible: modular implementation with user hooks means that it is easy to add your sensors to the application and report that data along with location data
- Configurable: publish is configurable by Particle console
- Location service: the Particle console offers snapshot and historical location viewing. This includes location, battery, IMU, and temperature data. Locations can be filtered by group or devices characteristics
- Data storage: location data is stored in the Particle cloud for analysis, reporting, and retention
- Publish configuration: publish rates and triggers can be configured from the Particle console by product or device
- Configuration on wakeup: the asset tracker can go to sleep and be configured from settings created in the console on wakeup
- Sleep configuration: deep sleep can be enabled or disabled. Sleep on low battery
- Configurable crash detection: wake on IMU, crash, and threshold publishing may be configured
- Secure database storage: all data is stored encrypted to ensure GDPR compliance
Particle has come a long way from their initial Spark Core board and then the next-gen Particle Photon! But the same idea has been the same – an IoT device that uses a powerful back-end IDE to compile and deploy code over WiFi, Cellular or Bluetooth. A common usage for IoT devices, especially cellular is ‘asset tracking‘ – A.K.A. “where the heck is that thing I own and what is up with it?” The “thing” in question may be a pallet of goods, a truck or bus, a soda machine, etc. Sometimes that thing is moving around, and you want to verify where it is (like a bus), sometimes you know where it is but you want to get status information (say, are we out of Dr Pepper in this soda machine and we need to refill it).
You can get everyday cellular asset trackers pretty easily – cell modems with a GPS attached and they’ll respond with lat/long when queried by SMS, or they could send an email or post to a website. That’s not a hard problem to solve (although it is somewhat hard to make it reliable). What is more challenging is when you have additional data you want to add, like say temperature and humidity inside the truck, or if you want to connect the tracker to a CAN network. There’s this steep ‘cliff’ of knowledge between something off-the-shelf and something with just a little bit more smarts.
What’s smart about Particle’s solutions is they already have a well-established and secure code deployment system, which is so hard to do. Especially useful when you have a coder managing a device off-site and needs to tweak the code – getting debug data and being able to compile and upload remotely is really cool!
The Tracker One is an open source ‘reference’ design, you can download the EagleCAD files from GitHub and adjust them as necessary if you want to add or remove components. The main component that does the ‘brain work’ of the board is the Particle T402MEA SOM, which is available separately from Digi-Key and either hand-solder or place-and-reflow in a custom design.
The Tracker One is nice in that you get the antennas, battery and durable enclosure. For external sensor or machinery interfacing, there’s an IP67 port on the side of the Tracker One with CAN, UART and some GPIO.
Once you get the Tracker, set it up over on the Particle website. You will need to activate the SIM card and attach a credit card for billing. The standard rate is about $7/month for 25 MB of data which is good enough for low-data IoT transfer (temperature, location, motion detection, etc). It does take a few hours to get the SIM activated, like any other cellular device, so give yourself a day to enable it.
We like the durability, the ease of setup and the hack-ability of this cellular board. It’s simple to open up if you need access to the debug port. If you don’t need a lot of GPIO, then you may be able to use it as-is just using the port to send/receive data and keep the battery topped up! The price is really great, both for the Tracker itself and the monthly service – it would be difficult to make something like this DIY style at a lower price.
See more at Digi-Key at https://www.digikey.com/short/z03jm4.