Micro:Bit computer in a launch event in London. The single-board computing device, unveiled back in March, will be given free to every child starting secondary school in the UK this autumn as part of the corporation’s Make It Digital initiative.
Designed and funded with a partnership of 29 companies, including ARM, Barclays, Microsoft, Samsung, Freescale and Nordic Semiconductor, the Micro:Bit device will act as an introduction to computer science, to tie in with the UK’s newly refreshed digital curriculum.
The BBC also announced that it will be forming a non-profit organisation around the Micro:Bit brand and making the hardware open-source. That will allow hardware companies to alter and sell Micro:Bit devices “in the UK and internationally”. (At first glance it appears to be a similar arrangement as used by Arduino.)
The Micro:Bit project is inspired by -– and takes its name from -– the beloved BBC Micro computer launched in the 1980s. Built by Acorn Computers, the Micro was a great success, selling over 1.5 million units and being widely adopted in British schools and universities. It has been widely cited as having a transformative effect on British computing, most recently inspiring the creation of the best-selling Raspberry Pi.
The Micro:Bit has changed significantly since it was announced: the device now has a friendly rectangular shape, designed by Shoreditch hardware startup Tech Will Save Us. The board now houses an ARM Cortex M-O processor and an accelerometer and magnetometer, as well as the prexisting 5×5 LED matrix display and two face buttons. It will also offer Bluetooth LE capability, USB, and a combined croc-clip/edge connector, which will allow children to connect the Micro:Bit to similar boards such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. The coin cell has also been swapped for a AAA battery pack for use when untethered from a PC.
The board will be accompanied with an online coding environment that will include Blockly, Python, and Microsoft’s TouchDevelop platform; the BBC has partnered with a number of education startups including CodeClub, Coder Dojo and Decoded to provide educational support for the device. Samsung is also working on a mobile app to flash the device over Bluetooth.
At the event in London, a number of partners showcased potential uses for the Micro:Bit. Among the highlights: using the device to control smartphone applications such as a music player, as a simple game controller, and to steer a simple robot buggy. Tech Will Save Us showed simple games – using the Micro:Bit as a connected scoreboard – Kitronik demoed wearable variants, using conductive thread to create smart textiles.
“We all know there’s a critical and growing digital skills gap in this country and that’s why it’s important we all come together and do something about it,” said BBC director general Tony Hall at the launch event. “The creative opportunities this tiny little device offers are endless.”