Is there a new generation of computer programmers in the offing? If so, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) wants to encourage them. The BBC this week released the micro:bit, a mini-programmable computer aimed at teaching children how to code and develop hardware projects.
The device will be given away to every child in Year 7 (the equivalent of 6th grade in the U.S.) at schools throughout the United Kingdom. About one million students will get the devices beginning in October, and not long after that the micro:bit will be for sale to customers throughout the world. Availability in the U.S., however, hasn’t yet been confirmed.
Unlike other popular boards such as the Raspberry Pi, the credit card-size micro:bit is not meant to be used as a standalone PC. It instead provides a basic board for embedded projects such as gaming devices or remote controls, and is compatible with more advanced micro PCs like the Pi and Arduino boards for projects that need a stronger processor. The micro:bit was developed in collaboration with tech companies including ARM, element14 (which makes the Raspberry Pi), Microsoft, and Samsung.
Start with the Basics
Under the hood the micro:bit sports a 32-bit ARM Cortex M0 processor, 25 programmable LED lights arranged in a grid, two push buttons for user input, an accelerometer and compass, a micro-USB connector, and Bluetooth connectivity. A slot for a watch battery didn’t make the finaly design, according to the BBC. The final version of the product has a battery pack add-on that takes two AA batteries.
Even though the idea of programming might seem old hat to some, the BBC figured there was value in learning coding basics. This isn't the first time that the BBC has tried to get kids interested in the nuts and bolts of computing. In 1981, the BBC worked with Acorn Computers to produce the BBC Microcomputer System, also called BBC Micro, which was sold mostly to schools in the U.K. as part of the BBC’s Computer Literacy Project.
"Just as the BBC Micro introduced millions to personal computers 30 years ago, the BBC micro:bit can help equip a new generation with the digital skills they need to find jobs and help grow the U.K. economy," said Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC.
Compared to the BBC Micro, the micro:bit will also be 18 times faster at running code, 70 times smaller, and 617 times lighter, the BBC said.