The TI-Innovator Hub brings calculators into the Raspberry Pi age

Texas Instruments (TI) is an enormous semiconductor company, but they will always be associated in my mind with secondary school maths lessons – working my way through trigonometry papers, tapping away at a calculator, occasionally writing 8008IES on the screen.

The TI-Innovator Hub brings calculators into the Raspberry Pi age

Students are clearly much more mature these days, and the role of calculators has jolted significantly in the wake of smartphones and microcomputers such as the Raspberry Pi. Not only can you plot graphs on TI’s calculators, but you can now also connect them up the company’s new TI-Innovator Hub and create your own coding and engineering projects.

Bett 2017 marks the European launch of TI’s latest education hardware, and it’s an impressive board that’s designed to work with calculators that many students may already own.

What’s interesting about the TI-Innovator is how it’s able to connect up to existing calculators, which then act as coding consoles to allow students to programme without a computer. I was able to program a burst of sound, for example, by choosing octave and rhythm on the calculator. I’m told that more ambitious projects could include the use of robotics and various additional module packs.

At its heart is the TI LaunchPad Board, which the company says uses the same technology it rolls out to help engineers design everything from 3D printers to smartwatches. Indeed, this air of professionalism is something that TI clearly wants to emphasise – while the Raspberry Pi pitches itself as rough-and-ready entry into the world of computing, the TI-Innovator looks and feels like an nascent engineer’s tool.  

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“It’s very difficult for teachers and educators to show children when engineering is like,” Mark de Hiep, TI’s marketing manager explained to me. “This is the way that they can start and imagine, because the microprocessor is used in industry, and they see that and say: ‘Okay, this is use and I can do something with it’. It’s really reaching for higher education and for engineers.”

As well as the TI LaunchPad Board, the TI-Innovator encompasses three input and output ports; a Micro-USB port; a Mini-USB port; a I²C port; a breadboard connector with 20 labelled pins; and on-board LEDs, light brightness sensors and a speaker.

“We saw it as an opportunity to extend the functionality of the calculator into a new direction, and the advantage that we have of course if that we have a lot of experience in education,” said de Hiep.

In many ways, the TI-Innovator shows how tech companies are rethinking the role of calculators in classrooms. When it comes to future capabilities, however, TI may soon have to catch up with Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi Foundation recently announced plans to partner with Google in 2017, and potentially bring the search engine giant’s AI and machine learning tools to the microcomputer.  

The TI-Innovator Hub is available now in select European countries, and is supplied in the UK via Science Studio and Oxford Educational Supplies. 

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