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Unboxing the TI-Innovator Hub and Breadboard Pack
Published by KermMartian on November 25, 2016 at 7:17:42 PM CST | Discuss this article (2)

Two months ago, esteemed Cemetech administrator Shaun "Merthsoft" McFall posted a hands-on review of the TI-Innovator. In his article, Merthsoft explored the TI-Innovator Hub with a TI-84 Plus CE, and put together various projects you can create with the Hub and with the optional Breadboard Pack. Rather tardily, I have finally gotten around to spending some time with my own TI-Innovator Hub and Breadboard Pack, and I have filmed two unboxing videos sharing my first impressions of the Hub system. Unlike Merthsoft's hands-on experiences, I focused on the process of getting started with the TI-Innovator Hub and creating your first projects with the device. The Part 1 video below covers unboxing the Hub itself, connecting it to a TI-84 Plus CE, and testing simple programs with the Hub. Part 2 is about unboxing the Breadboard Pack, looking through the components in the Pack and what you can do with them, and a sample project made with the breadboard, an LED, and a resistor.

I found that getting started with the TI-Innovator Hub was an intuitive process, at least if you have a little bit of experience with programming TI graphing calculators in TI-BASIC already. The TI-Innovator manual contains some sample programs you can type out verbatim if you're inexperienced with TI-BASIC, and it includes tips like where to find the quote and space characters, but I think that the absolute beginner might be slightly confused without some guidance. The sample programs in the manual are a reasonable cross-section of what the Hub can do: blinking an LED inside the Hub, playing a tone from the Hub, and blinking an LED on a breadboard attached to the Hub's Breadboard connector. I also wrote and explained a program that displays a random color on the Hub's RGB LED. I was pleased with the simplicity of creating programs for the device. All commands are issues as strings passed to the Hub via the TI-BASIC Send() command, and with the new toString() and eval() commands, you can even embed variables directly into strings. For example, a music program can play a 1-second note with frequency A by sending "SET SOUND eval(A) TIME 1" to the Hub. Unfortunately, because it takes time for the calculator to create and send the string, there may be some limitations to the applications that you can create for the Hub, though this remains to be seen. For example, you can see the lag between adjusting the brightness of the red, green, and blue elements of the RGB LED in the Part 1 video.

I applaud TI's efforts in making STEM more accessible in the classroom with a device that should be palatable for both teachers and students who are new to embedded programming and basic electronics. If you're an advanced user, I would be remiss if I did not also mention ArTICL, a cheaper (and somewhat more complicated) way to control electronics with graphing calculators. It lets you control an Arduino board with TI graphing calculators from the TI-82 to the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition that include a 2.5mm serial DBUS (I/O) port; unfortunately, that port was removed from the TI-84 Plus CE. As a companion to the TI-Innovator Hub and as an aid to learning to program applications for the device, I also biasedly recommend my book "Programming the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus" as a fun introduction to TI-BASIC programming.

If you have any questions about the TI-Innovator Hub, please feel free to post in the attached topic. I will happily accept suggestions and requests for things to try with my Hub and components. In the future, I plan to create additional videos that walk you through creating specific applications to learn embedded programming with the TI-Innovator Hub, and if there's sufficient demand, I'm also curious to test the speed of the Hub versus ArTICL with an Arduino. Please keep an eye on my YouTube channel for those videos.

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