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TI Calculator Wireless Chat Using Atmega644


Our project is a wireless communication link which interfaces to the serial ports on the TI-83 and TI-84 calculators.

TI Calculator Wireless Chat Using Atmega644


Our group created a wireless communication system for the widely popular TI 83/84 calculators. The system interfaces to each calculator through their 2.5mm serial ports. Using an instant messaging chat program written in TI Basic, and loaded onto all participating parties calculators, a user will be able to transmit messages over a wireless network. This device allows for convenient communication between localized parties by utilizing readily available and distributed devices. Our project models the TI calculator low level communication protocol over a wireless communication link as shown in Figure 1.


Mike Boor was a huge nerd in high school and spent the majority of his time trying to make his TI 83 calculator cool. He had an idea to make a wireless transmitter so he could communicate with his peers without the obvious serial cable link. Not possessing the skills to design such a device, he decided to become an electrical engineer. After 4 years his ignorance had disappeared but his nerdyness remained. It was time to make his dream a reality.


A small amount of mathematical formulas apply to this project, with the majority of the math present revolving around timing and logic. The serial link between calculators uses a handshake method between two signal lines which eliminates the need for a system clock to regulate data communication. This handshake protocol must execute at a minimum rate of about 200 baud or else communication will fail due to the transmitting calculator timing out while waiting for a response from the receiving calculator.


The logical structure of our project came from modeling the TI serial link low level protocol. Three wires are inside a Texas Instruments Calculator serial link: Two signal lines and a reference (ground) line. The two lines go low and high according to a handshake shown in Figure 2 below. The two wires (red and white) have their High/Low (H/L) status shown at each point in the handshake in Figure 2.

When the transmitting calculator wants to send a 1 to the receiving calculator, it pulls the red wire low, as shown in bottom left hand box of Figure 2. The receiving calculator responds by pulling the white wire low to achieve the left L-L state. Next, the transmitting calculator pulls the red wire back high, and waits for the receiving calculator to pull the white wire back high to return to the neutral state of both wires being high as shown in the middle of the figure 8 shaped diagram. When the transmitting calculator wants to send a 0, it conducts a loop around the right portion of the figure 8 in the same manor. The process continues for two bytes worth of data (16 handshakes). Then, the receiving calculator sends back a checksum of the last two bytes. The beauty of this project is that the check sum is sent using the same handshaking procedure, so since we are modeling the lowest physical level of this protocol, our system does not need to account for high level routines such as checksums, header packets, etc. The microcontroller that interfaces to the calculator simulates the handshaking protocol with the calculator it is connected to. A calculator behaves no differently than if the other end of its communication link cable was attached to another calculator, and not a microcontroller. The microcontroller stores in memory the current state of the red or white wires (high or low), then transmits this state over the wireless link to another listening microcontroller. This microcontroller then replicates the red and white wire states on the link cable attached to its calculator. By replicating data transmission on the physical level only, we allow our device to work with any calculator software which operates over a physical link.


Speeding up data transfer is at the heart of our hardware/software tradeoffs. Because we are simulating a wire from one calculator to another, we send four pieces of data for each bit of information that needs to be sent across the wireless link in order to simulate each of the four stages of the handshake in Figure 2. And, since a char (8 bits) is the smallest portion of data that we can send over the radios we chose to use, we are sending 32 bits of data wirelessly between the two microcontrollers in Figure 1 for each bit of actual information. Although this may seem super inefficient, the advantages of this method greatly outweigh the 32x slower speed obtained.

1)      Simulating the wire creates enormous code simplicity since, as mentioned before, we do not need to worry about ANY of the higher level protocol data transfer; we are simply modeling the wire that would be between the two calculators in a traditional serial link.

2)      Any type of data, message, or program that has ever been developed to communicate over a TI serial link will still work on our system.

3)      These are calculators that were developed over ten years ago, so the amount of data they are transferring is not that great, even for the relatively complex programs. The Atmel microcontrollers communicate over the wireless radio link at a rate of 115200 baud which is orders of magnitude faster than the calculators do over a traditional serial link. Plus, it is important to realize that although we send much more data over the wireless link, this data is not sent to each calculator. So all the extra information generated to simulate the transmission of a bit is done by the microcontrollers and sent over the radios, and is never processed by the actual calculators.

Since our software is way ahead of our projects hardware when it comes to speed, no other tradeoffs needed to be made.

We chose to use the Radiotronix RF Module Wi.232DTS-EVM-R radios which could interface to a microcontroller over a simple UART connection. The radios could be easily configured upon power up by the microcontroller, and self-perform packetization, transmission, and error checking of data. By using these radios were able to treat packets sent over the UART as if the UART ports of two microcontrollers were physically linked together. This greatly increased the simplicity of our project. The radios have an unobstructed communication distance of about 1 mile.


To demonstrate our capabilities, we utilized previously developed chat software that was designed to communicate over the serial link of two wired calculators. We used TI-83 Instant Messenger II developed by MJS2000 inc, and made available on We were able to successfully run this software on our wireless link without ANY modifications to the software or calculators. The handshake protocol we modeled was developed by Texas Instruments, and the radio transceivers were developed by Radiotronix. Atmel developed our microcontrollers and we drew from UART communication code developed by Jeorg Wunsch.


Two tricky parts of our code were difficult to develop. First, we needed to write code that could both receive and transmit data. The software for each microcontroller (both receiving and transmitting) is identical. Thus, the software needs to be able to know when to listen and when to speak to the radios. We did this by having the microcontroller simultaneously listen for a change in wire state initialized by the calculator, as well as if a new packet containing an updated wire states had been received through the UART via the radios. If a signal line attached to the calculator was sensed to go low as shown in figure 2, then the microcontroller would send this new state of the wires over the wireless link to the receiving calculators microcontroller. The receiving calculators microcontroller would then create this signal wire status on the receiving end. The receiving calculator then senses this change in wire status and then changes the wire status itself to move to the next part of the handshake in figure 2. The microcontroller then notices this change and reports it to the microcontroller via the wireless link and the process repeats every time a calculators changes the status of the signal lines.

The second tricky part of our code was writing to the data registers of the radios. In their normal setting, the radios are not ideal. They transmit and receive on the same default frequencies as everyone else using the radios, creating interference. The radios transmit speed is also at too low a rate by default. We needed to increase their baud rate in order for the microcontrollers to be able to communicate fast enough before the calculator handshake protocol timed out. We also configured the radio buffer size and speed to meet our needs. In addition, we wrote to some other radio registers in order to bump up the power output of the antenna for maximum transmission distance.

During transmission, the calculators transmit data via a handshake discussed in the previous sections. This means that for every bit sent, the transmitting calculator waits for a response from the receiving calculator and vice versa. If for some reason a response is never obtained, the project would be caught in an infinite loop waiting for a response from the opposing calculator. This must be avoided. If for some reason a calculator transmission fails (i.e. if it takes more than three seconds for a calculator to respond) then a watchdog timer kicks in to bail the software out of any infinite loops. Every time in the code where a calculator is waiting for a response from its counterpart, a millisecond timer counts down from three seconds. If the counter reaches zero, the transmission is aborted and the watchdog becomes active. When active, the watchdog aborts the transmission, resets the radios, signals to the calculators that the transmission failed, and then waits for a few seconds to allow the calculators to abort transmission themselves. Then, once the calculators have aborted, the radios and ports of the microcontroller are reset in preparation for another transmission attempt. The watchdog timer is needed if transmission fails due to distance, power failure, or cable disconnection.


The wireless link is slower than the wired serial link as discussed earlier. The net information transmission rate from one calculator to another is approximately 100 baud. This net rate includes checksums and all other protocol needs, but purely describes the information transfer rate. The wireless transmitter device (the microcontroller and radio) takes 6 seconds to load after being turned on. This load time accounts for writing to the registers, setting up a link to the other microcontroller, and establishing a steady wire state with the adjacent calculator. After this initial load time, no other overhead time is required except for a radio reset that may occur if a transmission failed for some reason (the other calculator lost power, went out of range, etc.) If such a failed transmission occurs, the radios reset and the microcontroller attempts to re-establish a stable link. This takes about 10 seconds.


As discussed earlier, the data communication protocol of a Texas Instrument calculator is a clock-less handshake over two lines. After each two bytes are sent, the receiving calculator responds with a checksum. Since our project is fooling the calculators into thinking there is a regular serial cable between them, our project is as accurate as the TI data transfer is. If there is ever a failed transmission, a breaking of the handshake, or an incorrect checksum, the calculators automatically try to resend the last two byte packet. If the transmission continues to fail and the calculators time out, and the radios reset as mentioned above and the system is reset. The only known reason for this is when the range of transmission nears the maximum distance and the radios begin to fail to communicate with each other.


The highest voltage created on our project is 9 volts from the battery in the portable version of our device. The leads of the battery are covered and are not exposed. All electronic components are covered to reduce burning hazards if a short occurred. In addition, our project contains no choking hazards for little kids.


Our project uses radios that are also being used in other projects. We have communicated with them (both intentionally and unintentionally with the radios) and have come to an agreement to use different channels for each of our projects. We are the only project that uses channel three of the radios. The radios have slightly different central carrier frequency options which can be chosen by writing to their local registers, which we do every time the project is turned on or reset.


The project is very easy to use by anyone. There is only one button: the ON switch. The project then automatically acts as a serial link between the calculators. Using the project requires no additional knowledge than is required to link two TI calculators with a conventional, Texas Instruments provided serial link. Plug and Play Baby!


Our radios work just as we had hoped. However, the wireless link is slower than a direct wire link. This is due to the radios being the bottleneck and transferring more data than is needed (char instead of single bit). However, this added time is minor. If we were to do this again, we may be able to figure out a way to send a single bit of data over the radios, or possibly spend a lot of extra time recognizing a higher level of the TI protocol in order to send information by the byte instead of the bit. Either method would result in higher data transmission rate. Other than that, our project met all success criteria and specifications laid out in our initial project proposal!


We used the RF Module Wi.232DTS-EVM-R by Radiotronix. This transceiver broadcasts at frequencies near 900 Mhz. This radio is declared acceptable by Title 47 CFR Part 15 Section C of FCC Regulations. We also follow the TI Low Level Protocol standard for communicating over a physical link between each microcontroller and calculator.


UART Code by Jeorg Wunsch TI-83 Instant Messenger II code by MJS2000 inc. Downloaded from

Other than the UART Code, all other Microcontroller code was developed from scratch by us. Our design and implementation is purely our own. Our calculator to radio interfacing algorithms could potentially be of interest to others. However, since this projects foundation is related to Texas Instrument devices, patents and publications do not seem justifiable.


Our project complies with all parts of the IEEE code of ethics.  Our project does not create any waste other than used 9 volt batteries.  A low power version is configurable for short ranged transmission to avoid wasting energy and RF noise.  Carrier frequencies of the radios are low enough such that no threat is posed to the human body regardless of position with respect to the radios. We have been completely honest with regards to all intellectual material we have used from others.  A comprehensive list of this material is as follows and credited in this document:  UART linked code, radio transceivers, and chatting programs for demoing.  We have honestly reported all specifications, limitations, and capabilities of our project in this document to the best of our knowledge and ability.  We have demonstrated our project to several peers and encouraged their verbal feedback while using our product. We actively worked with and assisted our peers when learning how to operate the Radiotronix modules. We rejected all bribery from students who wanted to borrow our devices for finals week. We cannot be held responsible if students try to cheat on tests using wireless chat between TI calculators.  We do not endorse such behavior. This project allowed us to improve our technical competence, while contributing to the understanding of a prominent technology.

TI Calculator Wireless Chat Using Atmega644 Schemetic


We used the RF Module Wi.232DTS-EVM-R by Radiotronix. This transceiver broadcasts at frequencies near 900 Mhz. This radio is declared acceptable by Title 47 CFR Part 15 Section C of FCC Regulations.


Appendix A: Microcontroller Code


Texas Instrument Wireless Transmission Source Code

Developed by Will Bruey and Michael Boor

This code allows an Atmell 644 microcontroller to communicate with both

a radio and a calculator to create a wireless transmission interface

through the Texas Instrument Serial Port on TI83 and TI84 calculators.

Compiled using Win AVR on a pentium core 2 running windows 7.

 Parts List:



Unit Cost

Total Cost


Atmel Mega644 Microcontroller




Bruce Land

Radio-frequency Transceiver

RF Module Wi.232DTS-EVM-R


Free (Donation)



Power Supply




Bruce Land

Custom PC Board




Bruce Land

Solder Board

(2 inch)




Bruce Land

2.5mm jack and Cable




NPN Transistor




Bruce Land





Bruce Land

Total Cost:


For more detail: TI Calculator Wireless Chat Using Atmega644

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