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Calculators Are Getting Smarter, Too

I’m too young to have used a slide rule, but I sure remember when calculators were big and clunky. And, while they did save time over hand calculations or the slide rule. They didn’t do all that much.

Hands down the best calculator I’ve ever had was the HP11C RPN calculator that my parents gave me for Christmas my senior year in high school. This is still a great calculator today!

Like just about everything, calculators are getting smaller, less clunky, and a whole lot smarter.

A good example?

TI’s Nspire, a calculator platform which Chris Grachanen blogged about a few weeks back on EDN Network.

It can connect to a variety of measurement sensors. It controls measurement sensor ranges, acquires measurement readings, and provides both data analysis and data archiving through its Lab Cradle accessory.

The TI-Nspire Lab Cradle has five sensor ports and collects measurement data at a rate of up to 100,000 samples per second. (Source: Chris Grachanen on EDN)

100k samples per second sounds like a lot, and it is. But many laboratory instruments, software defined radios, etc. – the sorts of applications that Critical Link gets involved with – sample at 1 to 50Msps, or more, and must provide low noise, high ENOB signal.This is a point that Chris covers:

These measurement sensors aren’t designed for stringent measurement applications where low measurement uncertainty is a prime consideration. However, they are sufficient for monitoring and evaluating many physical phenomena. They are ideal for evaluating measurement technologies before investing lots of money in more commercial or metrology-grade instrumentation.

Whether it can work with “commercial and metrology grade instrumentation” or not, it’s cool that the Nspire can give students a way to measure the world and interact with data. This is something that we didn’t get to do back in the day when we were working our clunky old calculators, or even my nifty HP11C. We didn’t get to do things like this until we were deep in embedded system design on a multi-million dollar project (back then) out in the real world.  (My first experience with this sort of data acquisition was when I was working on a ground-based radar system.)

Amazing how smart these calculators are getting.