Earlier this year the BBC announced that it planned to give one million students across the UK a programmable microcomputer, called the BBC Micro Bit, to help them learn the basics of coding. Now four months later, the design of the device has been finalized, ahead of its scheduled rollout date in October. The Micro Bit features two buttons, an array of programmable LED lights, and an in-built motion sensor. Users can connect their microcomputer to bigger devices by Bluetooth or USB, or to the similarly tiny Raspberry Pi through it's input-output rings.
The tiny Micro Bit can connect via USB or Bluetooth
The final design has one major change from the prototype shown in March — instead of a slimline watch battery, the device is now powered by two AA batteries. "The initial prototype utilised a smaller battery," a BBC spokesperson explained. "However in reviewing the design and examining the health and safety implications of using small batteries for a young audience, where siblings may be able to access the device, the partnership took the decision to re-engineer this element." The change makes the Micro Bit slightly less portable, and less practical to be used as a wearable device, but should also make it easier for kids to keep it operational.
BBC Learning head Sinead Rocks said the project was about "young people learning to express themselves digitally" through coding. Suggested projects for the Micro Bit include using its magnetometer to turn it into a metal detector, using it to control a DVD player, or programming its buttons to work as a video game controller. After the devices go out to school children later this year, the BBC and its partners in the project are planning to make the Micro Bit available for purchase, and its specifications open source.
The BBC suggests turning it into a video game controller
The BBC Micro moniker is already familiar to many in the UK, having been used for a series of machines designed by Acorn Computers and released in the country during the 1980s. The comparatively cheap computers helped thousands learn programming skills, and played a part in kickstarting the British video games industry, as coders designed increasingly elaborate console games in their bedrooms. Rocks references the original BBC Micro in describing the scope of the new project. "As the Micro Bit is able to connect to everything from mobile phones to plant pots and Raspberry Pis," she says, "this could be for the internet-of-things what the BBC Micro was to the British gaming industry."