Building Particle Mesh with OpenThread

While planning Particle Mesh, we did so with the view that current IoT networks connect only a portion of the interesting places and spaces that developers want to reach. From remote pipelines without an existing Wi-Fi infrastructure to subterranean systems where cellular signals just can’t get to, there’s a need for new tools with greater connectivity to make it possible.

Particle Mesh is designed to connect these hard to reach places using new mesh radios, which let you build a local network where ever you need it. To bring you these new features, we’re leveraging the power of OpenThread, an open source software implementation of Thread, created by Nest.

As we share more behind the scenes with Particle Mesh and introduce key mesh networking concepts (101 and 102), it’s only fitting to dig into why OpenThread is our protocol of choice.

The origin of OpenThread

Nest along with other partners was trying to solve a hard problem — following the release of their home thermostat. They needed a way to reliably and securely connect multiple smart home devices, while still making it user-friendly. In their assessment of available technologies, they found that Wi-Fi can be a battery killer, and Bluetooth is great for point-to-point but less efficient at communicating across a distributed network. They needed something else, and they decided to build it.

The result of their work is what eventually became Thread, a robust networking protocol that solved these connectivity challenges from the ground up. The protocol is Internet Protocol-based (IP), which makes it easy to code against — you don’t have to understand radio protocols, with a basic understanding of IP, you can start building right away. And security was baked into the protocol at the link-layer.

OpenThread

The benefits of Thread technology were clear to the Nest team, and they wanted to make it available for other product creators to leverage. In 2016, they released an open-source version of Thread known as OpenThread. Today OpenThread is the most broadly adopted Thread implementation, in part because it is OS and platform agnostic. All of OpenThread is developed in the open and anyone is welcome to contribute, review, and report issues (you can see the project repos here). OpenThread is also a proven technology found in Nest products today.

The power of OpenThread and Particle Mesh

At Particle, we saw the potential that OpenThread offered even beyond the home. From remote soil monitoring across an acre of farmland to sending data from normally ‘unconnected’ underground spaces, we’re excited to power the next generation of IoT with OpenThread mesh technology.

We chose OpenThread because it has the most flexible, is a well-supported open standard, and, we believe, is the best technology for IoT developers. Here are a few of the ways we’re leveraging OpenThread technology in Particle Mesh:

Network Deployment

OpenThread provides APIs to set up mesh networks, commission devices, and handle local network communication. In Particle Mesh, we’re extending that ease of use all the way to the cloud to give developers all the tools they need to build connected products like cloud communication or OTA updates.

Secure By Default

OpenThread provides built-in security where devices cannot join the network unless authorized. All communications are encrypted and secure by default. On top of that, Particle Mesh adds an application layer with additional security all the way up to the cloud — so developers can start building immediately.

Local Management From Anywhere You Want

OpenThread specifies how devices on the local network report their health and the state of their network; Particle Mesh builds on these capabilities so that you can monitor the state of the network from anywhere you can access the Particle Device Cloud.

Using the Particle Mesh’s Device Cloud, group devices as products, schedule over-the-air updates to local mesh networks, and keep tabs on the overall health of every local mesh network and device in your product fleet. It’s all possible thanks to Particle Mesh and Device Cloud.

To learn more about OpenThread, visit their website or their code repositories.

Author Bio

Sr. Content Manager at Particle. Into OSHWA and EFF and so should you! Linux geeking since 1.2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *