Particle Argon Kit: Projects, Setup & Power Options

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Recently, I had the opportunity to explore getting started with the Particle Photon. In this article, I'll instead work with the Argon board, which has a very similar setup as the Photon. We'll discuss the process and outline the device's new features, including how to pair it with Adafruit Feather-format devices.

Particle Photon vs. Argon

The Argon kit I ordered arrived in a small box, a contrast to the Photon's extremely tiny housing. When I opened it up, I realized the Argon is a slightly larger board than the Photon, and it comes with:

  • Separate 2.4GHz flex antenna
  • Small breadboard
  • Pair of 220-ohm resistors
  • Red LED
  • Phototransistor

The board comes with male headers soldered on, and it doesn't appear that you can purchase the Argon without them.

After my previous experience with the Photon, the Argon was easy to set up― you can find Argon setup instructions here. These instructions eventually refer you to the Particle mobile app, which lets you scan the QR code on the device to watch a short setup video clip. During this process, you'll need to enter your local Wi-Fi network credentials and select a name for your device. I chose the auto-selected "morphing-cowbow," which seemed interesting enough. Once complete, go into the console to signal the device to make its status LED blink in a rainbow of colors. After some updating, I targeted the device and transferred the "Blink an LED" sketch via the web IDE.

Particle Argon Battery: Power Options

Particle Argon_IMAGE 2-min

You can run and program the Argon while powered by USB stick

As the data transfers via Wi-Fi, you can also power the device with a USB battery or other supply, such as the connection to your PC. Setup was a breeze, and a testament to just how well Particle has integrated its cloud infrastructure. Notably, service is free for the first 100 devices you put on Particle's cloud. This is excellent news for tinkerers and suggests that Particle relies on larger-scale implementations for profitability.

Particle Argon_IMAGE 3-min

Particle Argon Features

The Argon has some interesting features, but its (comparatively) large size and higher price tag than the Photon are serious disadvantages. Naturally, this board has several advantages, including:

  • Particle Mesh Network: In addition to Wi-Fi capability, the Argon can act as a gateway for mesh networks. You'll need a Xenon endpoint/repeater to take advantage of this feature, but implementing this type of sensor or GPIO array can significantly extend an Argon's physical reach.
  • LiPo Battery Connection/LiPo Battery Charger: When you're ready to make your project wireless, many boards leave you wondering how to provide power effectively and simply. The Argon takes care of this for you with its included charging circuitry. But as noted in the documentation, be sure to check the polarity of your leads.
  • Adafruit Feather Form Factor: The Argon takes on the same form factor as Adafruit Feather boards, which means you can use a wide variety of FeatherWing accessories with it. You can also use the same LiPo connector with Adafruit boards.

Particle Argon Project: Directly Control a FeatherWing Display

Particle Argon_IMAGE 4-min

I didn't experiment with the Argon's mesh capabilities, but I was eager to test out the two other special features listed above. Fortunately, I had an Adafruit FeatherWing Doubler and an Alphanumeric FeatherWing Display on hand from another project. In theory, I should have been able to plug in the Argon into the space where the previous controller went, then program it with the proper libraries to make the segments light up. I was skeptical that this would work without a bit of tinkering, but it seemed like the right place to start.

According to Adafruit's documentation, the device needs the Adafruit LED Backpack library and the Adafruit GFX library to operate correctly. To add these to your project, search under the library icon (just below the <> icon for code). I found the following libraries and used the web interface to add them to my project:

  • Adafruit_LEDBackpack_RK
  • Adafruit_GFX_RK.

I also opened the quadalphanum example in the Arduino IDE and copy/pasted everything except the #include statements for the libraries.

Particle Argon_IMAGE 5

To my surprise, the device responded immediately, scrolling through different characters without complaint. I also cut this code down to produce the above photo with two display units entirely lit up, which you can find on GitHub. While I think this is a good example, note that you can't just copy/paste the code and expect it to compile. You'll need to actually import the libraries through the web interface and take out the soon-to-be duplicate #include statements.

Particle Argon Programming

The internet contains a lot of outdated information for using libraries with Particle boards. I initially thought I needed to install Particle's desktop environment, which appears to be excellent for seasoned programmers, especially those familiar with Microsoft's Visual Studio Code IDE. There's a bit of a learning curve, so I wouldn't go that route unless you're ready to commit to Particle or you're already familiar with that IDE. You can find procedure in this video After following along, I was able to get my Argon to blink.

Initially, I wanted to use a 7x15 LED Matrix with this instead of the alphanumeric display. Unfortunately, while there are a wide variety of libraries ready to go for Adafruit and other products, that display wasn't immediately available. There's probably a workaround for more seasoned programmers, but for this article, using something ready-made seemed appropriate. Finally, while the quadalphanum displayed its initial characters, I wasn't able to get the serial port working to have it copy what I typed in, which seems to be what's going on at the end of this code.

Final Thoughts on the Particle Argon

Particle Argon_IMAGE 6-min

What really strikes me about the Particle family (so far) is that if you write your code correctly and connect the device to Wi-Fi, things just work. Tell your Particle how you'd like things to behave, and it does so without complaint. Finding the correct library can be tricky, but given how many are available via the Web IDE, there's a good chance things will go smoothly.

However, it seems like the Particle ecosystem has really found a niche for itself as an all-in-one cloud/hardware combo. Sure, you could do IoT integration with an Arduino, Raspberry Pi, or another board, but the process would be more difficult. Particle provides both an attractive proposition for makers and a way to take things to market if and when you desire.

I'd never used one of these boards before, but I was quite impressed with the whole ecosystem. In fact, I've thought up a few projects I'd like to try with these boards, as soon as I complete a few of the builds already on my list.

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