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Particle's Electron board lets anyone make 3G internet devices

You only need a little cash and and an eagerness to learn.

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As sweet as it might be to dream of making your own Internet of Things device, there's one big problem: keeping it online at all times. How do you connect that smart sensor in your backyard when it's nowhere near WiFi? Particle (aka Spark) thinks it can help. It just started shipping the Electron, its cellular-equipped tinkerer's board, to its Kickstarter backers. The tiny device not only has the basic components you need to make IoT gadgets, but a modem (a 2G Electron is $39, 3G is $59) and a simplified, if slightly costly, data plan. If you're willing to spend $3 per month for 1MB and 99 cents for every megabyte afterwards, your project gets online in 100 countries around the world -- not trivial, but just fine if you're building a meter or anything else that transmits only a tiny amount of data.

Gallery: Particle Electron | 8 Photos

If you didn't get in on the Kickstarter action last year, you won't have to wait long to get the hardware. Regular pre-orders start on February 22nd, and wider availability starts on March 8th.

I've had a brief chance to check out the Electron, and I'll say this: getting started with it is easy, at least if you're comfortable working with bare circuit boards. I had a test unit connected to 3G and talking to my phone within a few minutes, and most of that was simply getting everything attached. It's not that much harder to attach some basic LEDs and load test code through a web browser, either. It'll take considerably more effort to make a practical device, of course (you'll need decent grasps on both electronics and programming), but the key is that the basics are taken care of. You can focus on actually creating that always-connected dream machine instead of wondering how it's going to work.

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