Particle Launches Resources To Take IoT from Prototype to Production
At its annual Spectra conference, today Particle is rolling out hardware and software products aimed at making IoT more accessible for all.
The Internet of Things (IoT) ranks amongst the most dynamic technology segments today, yet it also remains one of the toughest when it comes to system design. While many tools exist to make IoT prototyping accessible and easy, when it comes to design production solutions things become much more difficult.
For its part, Particle is well-known for its IoT solutions and surrounding ecosystem. Now, the company has aimed its sights at solving the IoT prototyping to production dilemma.
Zach Supalla, founder and CEO of Particle. Image from Particle’s Spectra conference website.
Today, at the company’s annual Spectra conference, Particle unveiled a number of new hardware and software solutions that help designers take their IoT products from prototype to production. All About Circuits had the chance to interview Zach Supalla, founder and CEO of Particle, ahead of Spectra 2023 to learn about the new developments firsthand.
Goal: Make Production IoT Attainable
One of the biggest challenges that face designers of IoT products is getting their idea from the prototype phase to the production phase. “75% of IoT projects fail,” said Supalla. “When I started trying to understand why this is, what I saw was a lot of projects failing in the transition stages. You have a lot of successful prototypes that then move into pilot and attempt to scale that product, but it just gets lost in the technical gobbledygook.”
In Supalla’s eyes, the major reason for this is that, while prototyping is relatively easy, the amount of technical know-how required for custom/production hardware is overwhelming. For a prototype solution, tools like Particle, Arduino, and ESP32 are abundant and ready to use—but they don’t always translate into a production-ready solution. When this happens, designers need to essentially start from scratch to make something that’ll work in production—a task that is easier said than done.
“There's so many things to do and so many things that can go wrong,” said Supalla. “You have to be simultaneously an expert at electrical engineering, embedded software, networking and connectivity, wireless networks, antenna design, security, cloud services, APIs, message, queuing, API design, and so on. There's so many things to screw up, that people often end up in endless R&D cycles and can never get a product to market quick enough to make it economical.”
Reflecting on these issues, Particle set out to create solutions that make the prototype-to-production transition more tenable. Demonstrating this, Particle decided that the theme of this year’s Spectra talk would be “Simple to Start, Seamless to Scale.”
The first big release at this year’s Spectra event is a new Wi-Fi development board called the Photon 2. The follow-up to Particle’s hugely popular Photon development board, Photon 2 takes IoT prototyping to the next level by offering a product that can easily be transitioned from prototype to production.
To make this transition as easy as possible, the Photon 2 is designed with Particle’s P2 SoM, which integrates much of the needed circuitry for a Wi-Fi-enabled IoT solution. The P2 SoM is built around a Realtek microcontroller that features a 200 MHz Arm Cortex M33 core (with Arm TrustZone) and is supported by 4.5 MB of RAM and 8 MB of flash.
With that much memory, Particle says the P2 is capable of running workloads such as ML and audio processing. Additionally, the Photon 2 supports dual-band (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz Wi-Fi) connectivity as well as BLE 5.
The new Photon 2 from Particle
By designing a prototype board with a SoM solution, Particle believes they will make production solutions easier for designers to achieve. According to Supalla, the dev board is great for breadboarding and prototyping.
”The module on it is the exact same module that you can buy at scale. And so electrically speaking, that makes it very easy to understand and incorporate into product designs.”
Assisted by design files and resources, a designer’s transition from prototype to production should be seamless with Photon 2.
While the development board costs $17.95, at scale the P2 SoM could cost less than $3. In this way, Photon 2 and P2 aim to bring affordability to a currently underserved market in the professional-level IoT market.
The second hardware solution to come from Particle today is Monitor One: a customizable IoT gateway development kit. According to Supalla, the impetus for Monitor One came from the idea that all IoT gateways were seemingly identical (in other words, a plastic enclosure with gateway electronics), yet so many different ones seemed to exist.
“We asked, ‘if all these products are the same, then why is anybody building them instead of just using off-the-shelf solutions?’ ,” said Supalla. “The answer is that while the physical presentation of this product is identical, every customer requires enough differentiation that they can't use the off-the-shelf products. They need some kind of custom electronics.”
An inside look at Monitor One.
Monitor One seeks to serve this market for custom IoT gateway electronics by offering an easy pathway toward customizable IoT gateway hardware. Monitor One consists of two major pieces of electronics: a Particle-designed motherboard and an expansion board that plugs into the motherboard.
The motherboard houses all of the more universal electronics such as compute, power management, antenna, and RF. The expansion board, on the other hand, is where the customization takes place—allowing designers to modify the system to fit their needs, for example, sensors and peripherals.
Supalla explains “The idea for the customer is, if they were to use this to create their own IoT gateway, they would essentially customize the expansion board without having to touch the motherboard,” says Supalla. “We provide all the design files so that engineers can integrate with it, making the development of real production-level solutions easy to achieve.”
Like other IoT gateways, Monitor One comes wrapped in a plastic enclosure that users can customize to their liking through Particle’s partners.
As a company, Particle’s aim has always been to make the development of IoT solutions easier and more accessible to everyoneSupalla and the announcements in this year’s Spectra are no different.
Concluding our interview, Supalla expressed his pride at the success rate.
“90% of particle customers get a product to market at scale in 12 months, and our new products should only improve those numbers.”
Based on this track record and the releases coming out of this year’s Spectra announcements, it’s clear to see why this is the case.
All images used courtesy of of Particle