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Norland Research Calculator Robot

Since I do work for Texas Instruments on their range of graphing calculators, naturally I was incredibly interested with the idea of a robot powered by the TI-83 Plus. This neat little robot kit seems to be aimed at high-school students interested in experimenting with robotics a little. Since the robot interfaces very nicely with the TI-BASIC environment, the calculator can provide some simple experience in robotics, while giving the students practice with programming and building.

The functionality of the Calculator Robot beyond the high school level is rather limited because of TI-BASIC and lack of expandability on the board itself.

Assembly

Although I didn't have all of the tools required to build the robot (a small drill is required), I managed to piece the robot together with a small screwdriver, knife and some sticky tack! The kit fits nicely on to the calculator casing (don't worry, Norland Research provide you with a new case to drill!). The assembly was all relatively easy, although it did include the servo modifications which seem to plague robotics kits these days.

You can see the kit laid out in its entirety on the leftmost shot. The middle shot is a close look at the circuit that comes with the kit - note the two switches at the front. These are used in conjunction with the bumper to give the calculator bot a sense of its surroundings. The third shot is the robot halfway to completion. The final shot is the underside of the robot after completion. Overall, the robot took about 90 minutes to build.

Operation

The operation of the Calculator Robot is simple - but this comes from someone with a deep background in the calculator it is powered by! People who are not accustomed to using the TI-83 Plus, TI-BASIC and the TI-GraphLink software (note that the kit doesn't come with the calculator nor the TI-GraphLink) might find it a little hard to get started.

The way the robot works is by calling an assembly program that Norland Research supplies which uses a variable to execute the command you want. For example, to get the robot move forward, your TI-BASIC program would look like:

:135:Asm(prgmSRBTEST)
:64 :Asm(prgmSRBTEST)
This may look rather complicated, but you get used to it. What I would liked to have seen was much more documentation, the 12-page instruction manual was fine, it was the two-page instruction manual that disappointed me. The commands were listed and not explained in depth. At least, I would have liked to have seen the example program broken down to make it easier for people to understand how it works. Anyone used to TI-BASIC won't find this too much of a problem, though.

Overall, though, the robot was easy to operate and program.

Conclusion

For a high school student, this kit is a great addition to any TI-83 Plus. Anyone wanted to do some serious robotics programming will want to look at another platform. This is mainly a problem with TI-BASIC and not the Calculator Robot (although assembly support for the robot would have been nice).

I enjoy things that I can build, program, and get some relatively cool results with in a couple of hours - the Calculator Robot is definitely one such thing.

Cover 8.5
Price:$99.95
Liked:Educational, easy to build, TI-BASIC makes it relatively flexible.
Disliked:Very little documentation, limited expandability.
Website:http://www.smallrobot.com/

Submitted: 05/11/2000

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