How this $30 cellular module is a game changer for Black Box Pi

A Kickstarter for the Spark Electron will release a small component that provides 2G and 3G cellular networking to DIY projects like Black Box Pi. For just $29 and $49, that means the vehicular black box I’ve been building an entire system around can finally sync to the cloud without a smartphone or home WiFi.

black box cellular modem

A huge portion of my efforts on this project have been around solving the problem of how to get the data off the Pi in the car and into the cloud (that’s the API based web service that stores the data). My first attempts were at using a smartphone app to act as a bridge between the Pi and the cloud. The architecture was simple. The smartphone uses Bluetooth to talk to the Pi, then it’s own data plan to sync that data to the cloud. That means building an iOS app and an Android app for syncing. It’s not a trivial undertaking for a hobby project. Option number 2 is to add a tiny WiFi USB dongle to the Pi so it can sync via your home WiFi when you park your car. That alone is fraught with problems: when you get home and it starts syncing, you shut the car off which kills the Pi.

There are alternative projects which use cellular chips to achieve this, but they are either proprietary or have a high price to match. The ethos behind the Black Box Pi project is to use cheap and freely available COTS (common off the shelf) components and open source software. Commercial solutions have their place along open source alternatives.

This module can finally allow the Black Box Pi to act as a completely standalone device without any need for a computer, home network, or smartphone. It can act fully silently and behind the scenes.

Why you need a dashcam during snowstorms

Here in the Boston area we’ve been pounded by some of the worst snow storms in decades. The snow keeps coming down and piling up. The problem? There’s nowhere to put the stuff. Roads are narrow and slippery.

The most dangerous aspect of this is that you can’t see in either direction of the street you are pulling out onto. Hell, I can’t even see my street as I pull out of my driveway. My only option is to pull out SLOWLY and hope any oncoming cars see me and either swerve or stop for me.

In too many cases I’ve had to break suddenly because a moron pulled all the way out into my lane before seeing if there was a car there or not. Having a dash cam in these scenarios is critical.

The latest Raspberry Pi 2 Model B is out, and with it comes some new testing on my part for use as a dash cam.

Raspberry Pi 2 Model B (1GB)

The original Model B would sometimes lock up when running motion for too long. Granted, that’s stress testing and I kept it running longer than you ever would during driving. But I like to put things through their paces.