Similar to other SBC's (Single Board Computers) available, such as the Raspberry Pi and Arduino, BBC micro:bit is a pocket sized computing device that offers its young users a level of programming accessibility that they simply can't experience using the modern devices they've grown up with. Indeed every element of the device is completely customisable as a result of its connectivity; allowing the user to bring their digital, app and game ideas to life with the help of easy-to-use software, available to download for free from a dedicated website, www.microbit.co.uk. As you would expect given its aims, the simplicity of BBC micro:bit is a deliberate move to encourage children to begin writing code, either in a graphical user interface, or via a text-based editor. The code is then compiled before being run on the BBC micro:bit, and via the web-based interface users can easily program the board to achieve a number of functions. For many students, BBC micro:bit will provide a great entry point to the Internet of Things (IOT).
Because BBC micro:bit has been specifically designed so it's easy for beginners to use, comparisons to the compatible but more advanced Raspberry Pi could be seen as somewhat missing the point. However as an introduction to coding and making, it's important for the wider success of this project that the experiments undertaken by users are not only fun and encourage creativity, but equally that they are scalable as users continue to learn. To give an example, it's possible to programme it as a "remote selfie app" that interacts with your other devices. This really is as simple as inputting 3 lines of code, checking to see if a button is pressed, followed by the BBC micro:bit connecting to your tablet or Smartphone via its built-in Low Energy Bluetooth and taking the snap.
Additionally, at just 50mm x 40mm, the compact size of the BBC micro:bit board should continue to fuel the trend amongst young makers for creating wearable tech, all that is required is an additional 2x AA battery power pack. The tiny coding machine has a sequence of 25 red LEDs that light up to display messages and can be used to create games. It also features two programmable buttons, five I/O rings so it can be hooked up to other kits and sensors, a built-in compass, and an accelerometer. The built-in accelerometer and compass also enable the BBC micro:bit to detect movement and ascertain which way it's pointing. The buttons can control games and, as a result of the Bluetooth technology, can also control music playback on another device, such as a mobile phone.
History of the BBC micro:bit
1981 – the original BBC Micro
In the 1980s the BBC introduced the original Micro computer. Launched as part of the BBC's Computer Literacy Project and accompanying a series of educational books and TV programmes, the BBC Micro initiative is widely regarded as a great success, inspiring a generation of future programmers. The BBC Micro was developed by Acorn Computers, and is actually a rebranded version of their Proton computer, which was only at the design stage at the time the contract went out. Unbelievably, the team working on it managed in just one week to build it into a working prototype which met the BBC's high specifications. The official release date was the 1st of December 1981, and just as rapidly as it was developed, the Micro was sold into 80% of schools in the United Kingdom. The "Beeb", as it commonly became referred to, utilised a new native programming language called BBC Basic, and for the first school children to use it, opened up a world of possibilities due to its superb connectivity and expand ability, leading many users to develop their own software and peripherals as a result.
2016 – the new BBC micro:bit
Fast forward over 30 years from the original BBC Micro, the UK has risen to become one of the world's leading digital economies, and the BBC has decided it's time again to revisit its Computer Literacy Programme. The new BBC micro:bit, officially became available to the general public on the 31st May 2016 after being given to 1 million year 7 school children in the UK for free. This highlighted the BBC commitment to help address a growing skills shortage in the UK's technology sector. BBC micro:bit has been designed to fit into UK schools' computing curriculum, with the aim to give today's age group the same opportunities to learn about programming and electronics in a fun, engaging and non-intimidating way.
How much does it sell for?
For those not lucky enough to receive a free one, BBC micro:bit is now available for purchase by any member of the public wishing to get their hands on one with the retail price starting at just £12.99. There are a range of recommended official BBC micro:bit kits now available including guides and essential accessories to get started, such as batteries packs, USB cables and starter guides. For customer wishing to purchase in small quantities, the official BBC micro:bit kits will be available for a range of online outlets. For resellers wishing to distribute BBC micro:bit, volume pricing for order quantities over 90 units is available from CPC (part of the Premier Farnell Group which manufactures it) – please contact for more information.
Who makes BBC micro:bit?
As the BBC's most ambitious education initiative in 30 years, they have teamed up with no fewer than 31 partners in order to make it a reality. Microsoft are responsible for developing the online programming environment for the BBC Micro:bit, as well as the 2 dedicated coding languages that will first be taught to owners of the device, the text based "TouchDevelop" and the image based "Blocks". Premier Farnell, manufacturers of the hugely popular Raspberry Pi, provided oversight of the design, cost optimisation and manufacturing of the board.
Both Farnell and sister company CPC are proud to be making BBC micro:bit available to purchase (90+ units) in 4 options, offering resellers, schools, clubs and organisations the chance to be a part of this exciting initiative.
A royalty from the sale of BBC micro:bit and its associated merchandise helps promote digital creativity amongst young people in the UK. The full specifications are available here on the BBC website.