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Last week I found a TI-Innovator™ Bundle for sale and figured I'd pick it up to play with it. I wanted to post my thoughts on this device as a programmer, and as a TI calculator enthusiast. If you're not familiar with the TI-Innovator, it's a box containing a TI MSP432 Launchpad development board, loaded with a custom firmware, that you can connect to your calculator. The upshot is that it's an educator-friendly way to teach students about coding and electronics, something of a more formal version of our popular ArTICL library to explore electronics projects with Arduinos and TI calculators. It consists of the TI-Innovator hub itself, connected to your TI-84 Plus CE or TI-Nspire CX calculator, and can be expanded with two accessory kits from TI. The I/O Module Pack contains a servo, vibration motor, light sensor, and white LED for TI's "Science Through Engineering Design" activities, while the Breadboard Pack contains discrete electronic components and a breadboard for the Path to STEM Projects activities.

I will say, right out of the box, it's a very nice looking device. It's fairly a fairly straight-forward process to get started with. I updated the software on my CE, installed the app, plugged it in, and wrote a quick blinking program:

Code:
For(A,1,10
Send("SET LIGHT ON
Wait 1
Send("SET LIGHT OFF
Wait 1
End


And, viola, a blinking light!


I will say, right out of the box, this is a joy to program. One of the things I love about programming calcs is the ease of getting in to it. There's a simple menu interface so you don't need to remember every keyword, and it's easy to just explore and make something happen. This holds true for the Innovator Hub, as well. I knew right away that this would be a great way to get kids to play with electronics and learn how to program.

After the blinking light, I wanted to do something a little more complex. I had a lot of things I could play with with the bundle, but wanted to keep it just using the Hub for now. So, the next thing I figured I'd do was make some sound. This is where I ran into my first error, and boy does the hub let you know something went wrong:


The problem was I was doing:
Send("SET SOUND F
To try to send a sound of frequency F. This doesn't work--it doesn't know about the variables on the calculator. This was fixed with:
Send("SET SOUND eval(F
And I had a chromatic scale playing:

Code:
440->F
For(A,1,12
Send("SET SOUND eval(F
F*12root2->F
End




Again, I found this great fun. I noticed when playing the music, that the RBG LED was blinking, and then made a little program to cycle between the lights. At first I thought there would be many colors, but I think that each can only be on or off. This is where I learned that you can use 0 for off and 1 for on. This makes programming a little easier when you're doing on and off programmatically. I don't have a video of that, because it's not terribly exciting.

Note: I have since learned from this page that you can do more with the on-board RGB LED. The lesson here: Always read docs.

However, this made me want to play with the RGB LED that comes with the breadboard kit. This reminded me why I didn't pursue electronics any further in my studies: I dislike dealing with and hooking up all these components. I got it all hooked up, but will admit that I couldn't figure out how to program it. It would be nice if the instructions booklet had more details on how to do things. That said, I decided instead to make a counter using the seven segment display.

The display that comes with the bundle is an LTS-4301JR. I looked up the datasheet to hook it up, and again couldn't figure out the code. That's when I found this page which has lots of useful information for hooking up these kits, and I got it working.



At this point I had had enough with electronics components and breadboards, so I figured I'd play with some of the other kits that came in the bundle. The range finder seemed like it would be fun, so I made a little program that translated range to frequency, and made a little fake Theremin:


Overall, I have to say I'm quite impressed with this. Out of the box, with just the hub, you can do some pretty fun things. I wish the Hub itself had some built-in inputs--maybe the buttons on the board can be read from the calc if you take off the cover. I'd like to experiment more with the built-in stuff. There are some buttons and some jumpers.

Having simple inputs and outputs is really nice for getting people up and running with some fund things right away, and having the more complicated breadboard stuff makes it so you can basically do anything with the calculator driving. I think this is a great way to get kids into programming, and I look forward to seeing what teachers and TI do with it in the future! If you have any questions about using the TI-Innovator or want us to try some experiments with ours, please don't hesitate to ask.

That's pretty cool! It's a bit expensive to use an "add-on" but given the speaker and RGB light, it'd be neat to make a safe cracking game where you use the TI-Innovator to help you break a safe. Such as, if the light blinks red, you need to these steps to turn it back to green, perhaps by using other sensors or components. It seems to be a "here's the core unit and what you do with it is up to you" type of thing so this type of game is incredibly impractical.

Pretty cool, thanks for sharing!
So here's something a little frustrating I've run into. I've got the following code:

Code:
While 1
Send("SET SOUND 261.6 .25
Wait .25
End

This should play a middle C over and over. However, it plays a C and then what sounds like a C#. It basically plays the second note about a half-step off when playing the same note twice in a row. Video recorded in dumb mode:

merthsoft wrote:
So here's something a little frustrating I've run into. I've got the following code:

Code:
While 1
Send("SET SOUND 261.6 .25
Wait .25
End

This should play a middle C over and over. However, it plays a C and then what sounds like a C#. It basically plays the second note about a half-step off when playing the same note twice in a row. Video recorded in dumb mode:

Yeah, critor has been experiencing the same thing, and he and I noticed it as well on another one as well that TI was showing, so it's safe to say it's not a problem specific to your hardware.
Meh.
I reported it yesterday, and it's already in the pipeline to be fixed, presumably. Smile

Edit: they're aware of this bug, but a sketch to fix it won't be out for a couple of months.
Since this works with the Nspire CX, I'm guessing that it would also work the the Nspire CX CAS as well?
Yes, it also works with the CAS. Here is a list of all the compatible TI products it works with.

TI-84 Plus CE graphing calculator
TI-Nspire™ CX handheld
TI-Nspire™ CX CAS handheld
TI-Nspire™ CX Student Software
TI-Nspire™ CX CAS Student Software
TI-Nspire™ CX and TI-Nspire™ CX CAS Teacher Software
TI-Nspire™ CX Navigator™ Teacher Software
TI-Nspire™ Navigator™ NC Teacher Software
Well.... wow.
And obviously the TI-83 Premium CE and TI-84 Plus CE-T.
Adriweb is right, I forgot to mention the non US models. Thanks.
Are you affiliated with TI, TIshane? Can you tell us a little bit more about how the Innovator interacts with the TI-Nspire student/teacher software, if so?
I am but I'm way down the food chain. My limited understanding is that it works exactly the same way as it does with the handheld. Instead of connecting the Innovator to the mini USB of the handheld you connect it to the USB of the computer running the latest version of the student/teacher software.

I'm sure you meant how it interacts in a deeper sense but unfortunately I don't have that information.
TIshane wrote:
I am but I'm way down the food chain. My limited understanding is that it works exactly the same way as it does with the handheld. Instead of connecting the Innovator to the mini USB of the handheld you connect it to the USB of the computer running the latest version of the student/teacher software.
Thanks, that makes sense.

Quote:
I'm sure you meant how it interacts in a deeper sense but unfortunately I don't have that information.
That more or less is what I was getting at. Not being very familiar with the TI-Nspire's computer software, I believe it's an emulator like TI-SmartView for the z80/ez80 calculators, in which case I'm fairly impressed that the emulated calculator can interact with real USB devices. My understanding is that both Smartview and the TI-Nspire computer software can now communicate with the latest Vernier products as well?
Correct but it needs to be the latest version of the software. TI-Nspire (4.3.0.702) and TI-Smartview (5.2.0.262)
KermMartian wrote:
Not being very familiar with the TI-Nspire's computer software, I believe it's an emulator like TI-SmartView for the z80/ez80 calculators

No, it's all native, there's no emulation involved, only "simulation" of the UI if you're in handheld mode.

KermMartian wrote:
My understanding is that both Smartview and the TI-Nspire computer software can now communicate with the latest Vernier products as well?

Actually TINCS has been able to do so for years (I'm not sure exactly since when)
  
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