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The Principle

Within the Particle Computer System there are 4 classes of hardware boards (see devices section) coming in different configuration (and therefore have different names):

Core Boards contain the basic operation for a Particle (the program, operating functionality). To start a wireless network you only need two of these boards to let them communicate to each other. Input and output (altough some of the core boards contain basic input/output functionality) can be added by using one of the additional boards. Additional boards are stacked to the Particle using the Particle Connector (for the Particles, cPart, Part-c, Blueticle, zPart) or using the uPart connector (only for µPart, µSens, µproto). You can combine any core with any additional board you like (execpt for µ-type boards that can only combined with µ type boards).

For your application you may select one of Particle types based on the communication system or standard that fit you best and then select additional sensor and actuator boards needed for you application.

Other additional boards provide you with the ability to extend the hardware: Using either the breakout, proto, mini... protoboards (they are all similar, some come with more, others with less features, but all give you full access to the Particle Connector Bus) you can solder your own sensors/actuators/other circuits to the particle system and feed informtion to the particle core or get out information from the particle.

Interconnect Boards provide you with the ability receive information from particles and send information to particles from other networks or devices, e.g. the Internet/Ethernet (using a XBridge, USBBridge), your Laptop or PDA (using the USBBridge or the serial board). Except for the serial boards, interconnect boards come with pre-installed software and (in case of USB) with drivers as ready-to-run components (They can, of course, be programmed, but you don't need to).

Development boards are needed for all development that can not simply be done using the PC-tools and help you while soft- and hardware development for your Particles. Example are Flashing new OS versions or low-level programming and debugging(you need the programming adapter(s) for that). To test if you hardware still works you need a test adapter, for powering the particles without battery you may want to use the power adapter as a constant power supply.

The Matrix

Particle Core Boards

Board Smart-Its 1.01 Particle
Particle 2/10 Particle 2/29 µPart cPart zPart Blueticle
Processor PIC 16F876 PIC 18F452 PIC 18F6720 PIC 16F6720 PIC12F675 CC1010 (8051) PIC 16F672x - (from Core board)  
RAM 368 1.5k 4k 4k 64 2k 4k  
DATA-RAM 0 32k 32k 512k 0 - 512k  
Program-Flash 14k 32k 128k 128k 1.8k 32k 14k  
MIPS 5 5 5 5 1 5  
Radio TR1001 TR1001 TR1001 TR1001 int. int CC2420 Zeevo  
Frequency 868.35 868.35 868.35 868.35 869,869.85,
(303.825, 914,
868,(915,315,433 )
frequency bands
2.4GHz band 2.4 GHz band  

Datarate (radio/
application layer

125kbit/48kbit 125kbit/48kbit 125kbit/48kbit 125kbit/48kbit 19.2 kbit 76,8kbit or 19.2 kbit 250 kbit/s 230kbit/s  
Protocol AwareCon (ConCom) AwareCon (ConCom) AwareCon (ConCom) AwareCon (ConCom) µAwareCon (ConCom)

µAwareCon (ConCom)

802.15.4 (ZigBee)
Features Sending Signal Strength Regulation (SSS) SSS SSS (RSSI extension) SSS, RSSI RSSI (receiver) SSS, RSSI ,DES, software frequency selection SSS, RSSI 2 AA bats
Core+Add-on socket
integrated Actuators Piezo, 2 LED 2 LED 2 LED Speaker, 2 LED 1 LED 2 LED 2 LED, Speaker  
integrated Sensors Ball Switch Ball Switch Ball Switch Ball Switch Ball Switch  
Interface Particle Interface Particle Interface Particle Interface Particle Interface uPart Interface Particle Interface Particle Interface Particle Interface
Dimension 40x50mm 35x17mm 33x17mm without ball switch & battery, about 33x17x15 with lithium coin cell (without ball switch), 45x27 mm with AAA battery 45x18mm 8x11mm 22x16mm 35x21mm 60x38mm  

Note: AwareCon contains ConCom at the upper layers

What do I need for starting?

It depends.

A very minimum set could be

This set allows you to send and receive packets. If you have a Core boards with integrated sensors you can use them to sense something and send out the information over the wireless network to other Particles or to your PC. If your Core comes with an integrated actuator you can react on event sent out by other Particles or your PC. You can also do things like ad-hoc routing networks etc. where you do not see/hear anything and where you do not need any input into the system.

A more interesting set for research on sensor input and context awareness could be this