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The BBC

The BBC Is Giving This Tiny Computer to 1 Million British Kids

So they can leave school knowing how to program computers, not just how to use them.

DAVID NIELD
9 JUL 2015

The BBC has revealed the look and design of its new Micro Bit computer, the small programmable chip it's giving out for free to 1 million schoolchildren in the UK. As it promised back in March, the British Broadcasting Corporation is making enough Micro Bits to supply all the Year 7 pupils (aged 11 at the start of the school year) in its home country.

 

The Micro Bit features two buttons, five input/output rings, programmable LED lights, and an integrated motion sensor and compass, and it's powered by a couple of AA batteries sitting in a separate case (an earlier prototype included an integrated battery, but this was removed for safety reasons). The idea is that kids can hook the microcomputer up to larger devices via Bluetooth or USB, and it can also work with the equally compact Raspberry Pi to create all kinds of projects.

It's part of the BBC's Make It Digital campaign, which it hopes will "inspire a new generation to get creative with coding, programming and digital technology". Because the organisation is funded by the UK public, part of its mandate is to promote education and learning and stimulate creativity in the country - something it hopes the Micro Bit will do. More than 25 other organisations and tech companies have been named as partners in the scheme, including Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and the British Computing Society.

Some of the suggested projects school kids can use the device for include a metal detector (using the integrated magnetometer), a DVD remote control, a high-tech spirit level, or a video game controller. Code can be written for the computer chip using a dedicated website, and it's capable of displaying letters and numbers via its LED display. The underlying goal is that children leave school knowing how to program computers, not just how to use them, the BBC says.

According to the corporation, the 4 cm-by-5 cm Micro Bit will also be available for purchase to whoever wants one later this year, with its specifications released under an open-source licence. The project harks back to the classic BBC Micro computer of the 1980s, which was also partly funded by the BBC and had the same aim of helping students get to grips with programming languages and personal computers.

"The BBC Micro Bit is all about young people learning to express themselves digitally," said Sinead Rocks, head of BBC Learning. "As the Micro Bit is able to connect to everything from mobile phones to plant pots and Raspberry Pis, this could be for the Internet-of-Things what the BBC Micro was to the British gaming industry."