Micro Bit

7 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

BBC to give away 1m Micro:bit computers to schoolchildren.

The BBC has finalized the design of the micro:bit, the tiny computer it will give to 1 million British schoolchildren later this year to help them learn about computing. The pocket-sized micro:bit carries processors and sensors – the raw materials of a computer, that can be coded and programmed in any way to work alone or connected with other devices.

The computer was unveiled at an event in London on Tuesday, along with plans for its rollout this October, after the Micro:bit project was launched earlier this year as part of the corporation’s Make It Digital initiative. With its technology partners, the U.K. public service broadcaster unveiled the micro:bit’s final design on Tuesday, and gave more details of the videos, lesson plans and other teaching resources it plans to accompany it. The BBC is working with 28 software and hardware partners on the project, which will see every year seven pupil in the country given one of the computers, and a not-for-profit body set up to sell them after that point. “Creating the Micro:bit has been a brilliant collaborative adventure for all of us,” said BBC director-general Tony Hall. “We’re talking about up to 1m Micro:bits going to 11- and 12-year-olds across the country.” The BBC hopes the computer will change “the way children think about their ability to make things happen digitally”, according to Hall, who said the Micro:bit fits neatly with the BBC’s Reithian mission to inform, educate and entertain. At 5 centimeters by 4 cm, the micro:bit is about half the size of a Raspberry Pi, the ubiquitous single-board microcomputer—but with two push-buttons and a grid of 25 LEDs as its main user interface, the device perhaps appears to have more in common with the MITS Altair 8800.

He also drew a parallel with the BBC Micro computer, which the corporation launched in the 1980s as a way for children to get their first experiences of home computing. Hall said that device “shifted the conversation around computing” in a way that the Micro:bit hopes to do again for present-day children. “We want to take that legacy and reinvent it for our age,” he said. “The creative opportunities this tiny little device offers are endless.” The Micro:bit measures 4cm by 5cm and has 25 red LEDs and two buttons, which can be programmed from a computer or mobile device via the BBC’s soon-to-launch Micro:bit website, connecting to it using Bluetooth technology.

The board holds an accelerometer, a compass, a Bluetooth interface, a Cortex M0 ARM processor from Freescale Semiconductor, an edge connector and three terminals to which wires can easily be attached with those staples of the physics classroom, croc clips and banana plugs. The hope is that not only will children use the micro:bit – which they will own personally rather than their school – but it will also encourage them to get creative outside of school as well as in the classroom. The BBC’s head of learning, Sinead Rocks, said that the project started in 2012 as a “very tentative idea that very quickly gave us a feeling of ‘what if?’”.

Power is provided either from a detachable AAA battery pack (early designs called for an onboard coin-cell battery holder) or through a Micro USB connector, which can also be used to program the device. The micro:bit ships with drivers onboard for the various peripherals and code to display characters one at a time on the LED grid, register button presses or detect when the device is in freefall. It does not plan to distribute more Micro:bits to year seven pupils in the autumn of 2016, but Rocks said the not-for-profit body would “explore ways” of getting the device into the hands of more children after the initial giveaway.

Microsoft’s TouchDevelop online programming environment, hosted at microbit.co.uk, will let children assemble these blocks of code to perform more complex functions and download their program from a PC to the micro:bit. Key partners include ARM, Microsoft, Samsung, Barclays, Freescale, Element14, Lancaster University, Nordic Semiconductor, Technology Will Save Us, ScienceScope and the Wellcome Trust. The corporation and its partners are hoping the Micro:bit can inspire more children to take up computing as they progress through school, and then go on to further education and careers in the technology sector. “We all know there’s a critical and growing digital skills gap in this country, and that’s why it’s so important that we come together and do something about it,” said Hall. “We’re also exploring ways to ensure that children who are home-schooled also get their hands on one,” said Rocks, who added that once the 1m Micro:bits have been distributed to year-seven pupils, the BBC will make them available for other children, too. “We’re planning to develop a not-for-profit company that will oversee and drive the Micro:bit legacy … we will be licensing them so that they can be made commercially available both in the UK and abroad,” said Rocks. Derrick McCourt, general manager, public sector for Microsoft UK, said: “We don’t really know what kids are going to do with it … the exciting thing for us is that out of year seven, the next Bill Gates could come.”

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