TI-83 Gets CircuitPython Upgrade

Graphing calculators are an interesting niche market these days. They’re relatively underpowered, and usually come with cheap, low resolution screens to boot. They remain viable almost solely due to their use in education and the fact that their limited connectivity makes them suitable for use in exams. The market is starting to hot up, though – and TI have recently been doing some interesting work with Python on their TI-83.

Rumor has it that TI have been unable to get Python to run viably directly on the TI-83 Premium CE. This led to the development of the TI-Python peripheral, which plugs into the calculator’s expansion port. This allows users to program in Python, with the TI-Python doing the work and the calculator essentially acting as a thin client. The chip inside is an Atmel SAMD21E18A-U, and is apparently running Adafruit’s CircuitPython platform.

This discovery led to further digging, of course. With some hacking, the TI-Python can instead be replaced with other boards based on Atmel SAMD21 chips. For those of you that aren’t in Atmel’s sales team, that means it’s possible to use things like the Adafruit Trinket M0 and the Arduino Zero instead, when flashed with the appropriate CircuitPython firmware. It’s a tricky business, involving USB IDs and some other hacks, but it’s nothing that can’t be achieved in a few hours or so.

This is a hack in its early days, so it’s currently more about building a platform at this stage rather then building fully-fledged projects just yet. We’re fully expecting to see Twitter clients and multiplayer games hit the TI-83 platform before long, of course. When you’ve done it, chuck us a link on the tip line.

[Thanks to PT for the tip!]

20 thoughts on “TI-83 Gets CircuitPython Upgrade

  1. “They remain viable almost solely due to their use in education and the fact that their limited connectivity makes them suitable for use in exams.” That and they’re carefully listed by name and model number as acceptable by testing agencies, keeping them profitable in perpetuity as students simply accept the cost as overhead in the exam process.

    As with so many things, there is also a relevant XKCD:
    https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/1996.png

    1. I think that the TI scientific calculators that are acceptable on tests are a pretty good deal only being about 20 USD, I started using the 36X pro to practice for the PE and it’s still my “go to” for an actual calculator.

      However, their graphing calculators are extremely underpowered and overpriced. Most of my work that would be done on a graphing calculator I do on a computer anyway, although I really want to get a numworks to play around with, I think there is a lot of potential there and could probably take over the handheld calculator market if they were accepted on tests. Instead of having a “test” calculator and a “school” calculator you could just have the one.

    2. Casio and Citizen were most common on my university. We used to pay 5$ up to 30$ depending on what you could afford or like. And all of them remained in use long after graduate.
      I didn’t know TI or HP had calcs until around 2010.

  2. This is the first I’ve seen of a new TI-83 model. From this post, it looks the new TI-83 Premium CE is better than the TI-84 Plus CE from a few years ago. So, has TI decided to reverse their trend of making every new graphing calculator worse in programmability than the previous one, despite appearing better to the average consumer?

  3. Some Casio calculators (Mine included) have had python for a few months now. It comes with a software update. Notably, its is way faster than CASIO-BASIC programs.

  4. You can easily get used TI graphing calcs for ~$20 from ex-students who no longer have a use for them (well probably non-engineers) after they graduate. I know I often see older 83+ models for under $10 at my local thrift store. The only issue is the old batteries tend to be left in … for years causing battery corrosion but that’s usually fairly easy to clean.

    1. Yep. Us science majors and engineering majors hold onto our TIs with our dying breath! I still have my original TI-83+ that I bought for my SATs and Cal 1/2 classes in High School, about 15 years ago. Still going strong. Not used nearly as much, since I more often use the scientific calc app on my phone, but I keep it in my desk drawer at work.

      1. Got my TI-89 at a thrift shop, corroded batteries and all, for $30, back when they were still fairly new. They wanted more, but I pointed out the batteries, and the fact they clearly never even checked. Cleaned it up, and still have it to this day. I also have my modded TI-86, a TI-92, and I think I’m letting a friend borrow an old TI-82 with a missing line on the screen for his college classes. That TI-89 is always by my workbench.

          1. Oh, boy! I can’t believe you typed that! You won’t even survive long enough to realize what you just did.
            Here come the RPN nazis …

        1. 48GX… from my cold dead hands. It’s on my desk right now, though it doesn’t get any serious use except for the odd weird unit conversion.

          OTOH it’s about a month ’til I turn 40 so yeah, old fart I guess.

    1. It can happen. I recently got one missing the cover for $7 in a lot with a Casio graphing calculator and a mix of 5 other scientific calcs. Even the TI-92 and Voyage 200 look too clunky compared to recent handheld stuff for folks to give them a second thought. Certainly a far cry from when I saved up to buy one back in 1996.

      Hopefully the kids start losing calculators less often so I can scatter some around my workspace like safety glasses and tape measures so I always have one right to hand.

  5. Several years ago I needed to buy a replacement TI-83Plus rig, because the other one had its display start to fritz. TI refused to provide me with an RMA for it to be returned for repair, at cost, to me. They wanted me to buy a completely new one. The one I bought was bought for $35 at Book-Off in Manhattan and it indeed its batteries were shot. Next time I stopped in to check on something else I promptly mentioned it, and got stared at.

    I do use mine for figuring things out, but its primary purpose is that helping me check out newly arrived Basic Stamps, or just checking to make sure that the Stamp was indeed properly setup. (All of you remember those?)

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