The new BBC micro:bit computer

Wednesday 4 May 2016

One million school children in the UK will soon be receiving their own computer without having to pay a single penny. The BBC, in collaboration with 29 partner organisations, has recently begun the delivery of its new microcomputer, the BBC micro:bit, a pocket-sized computer which will be given to every school child in year 7 (S1 in Scotland) across the UK for free. They’re also planning on making the device commercially available in the near future so older kids like me can have a go too.

bbc micro bit

What is it?

The micro:bit is a 4x5cm microcomputer with two programmable buttons, 25 red LEDs set in a 5×5 grid, an accelerometer, and a compass (magnetometer). There are also five ring connectors and built in Bluetooth Low Energy to allow users to connect to a bunch of external sensors and devices including thermometers, proximity sensors, tablets, and even robots. The device also has a standard edge connector allowing it to connect to other microcomputers such as the Raspberry Pi or Arduino, opening up even more avenues for creative uses. All this can powered by two AAA batteries or over a USB connection, allowing the device to be completely portable.

How does it work?

Kids, and adults, are able to programme every aspect of the device using the Create Code section of the micro:bit website, there are four different editors to choose from depending on the user’s skill level. The editors can be run on any device with a web browser (e.g. PC, tablet, smartphone, etc.) so users aren’t restricted to coding on a classroom PC. Once a programme is finished it can be compiled, downloaded and transferred to the micro:bit either using a USB cable or over Bluetooth.

BBC’s goal

The BBC’s goal is help fill the current skills shortage in the UK technology sector. As well as giving away one million free micro:bits they’re also making the technology and OS open source so that others can create their own devices or variations of the device. The mirco:bit will also be sold commercially through a non-profit company with any revenue going to support a legacy for the micro:bit partnership. This has the potential to provide kids all over the world with access to a computer and start learning how to code. Which is something that’s starting to become more essential as technology comes to be further integrated with our daily lives.

If only this was available when I was a kid.

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