A million British schoolchildren are to get a free computer in an attempt to boost programming skills. The machine, made by the BBC, is a tiny PC along the lines of a Raspberry Pi and is a mere 4cm by 5cm.
The idea of the Micro Bit is to be even simpler to use than similar existing machines and is designed more for using as a learning tool than as a standalone PC. It’s partly an attempt to address the way the Raspberry Pi seems to have been adopted more by adults with a keen interest in technology than by children.
Users will be able to program Micro Bit via a website on a computer or mobile device, with an option to test programs in a simulator. It includes 25 red LEDs and two programmable buttons, plus an accelerometer and compass. It can connect to other devices via Bluetooth and five input/output rings. The BBC suggests some possible projects could include using the device as a spirit level, basic games controller, remote control or metal detector.
Originally the device was planned to house a watch battery, with the BBC suggesting it would be portable enough to use as a wearable device. The finished model instead uses an external battery pack with two AA batteries.
Around a million units will be given out free of charge to every child in school year 7, the academic year during which children turn 16. The long-term plan is to then make another production run for commercial sale. There’s no restriction on what the children can do with their device, however, so don’t be surprised to see plenty of units on eBay.
While the BBC is funding the project, many of the costs have been picked up by companies such as ARM, Microsoft, and Samsung, providing components and development work. In all nearly 30 organizations will contribute to the manufacturing, distribution or promotion.
The project brings back memories of the BBC Micro, one of the early home computers. It was produced by Acorn Computers with the BBC branding and was particularly popular for use in schools thanks to both its perceived educational value and its extreme physical durability.