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.
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.