BBC Unveils the Micro Bit Development Board for Students

Like the Raspberry Pi devices and Arduino boards, the Micro Bit is designed to get children interested in programming and digital computing.

BBC Micro Bit

U.K. broadcaster BBC, more than 30 years after launching its first Micro computer aimed at helping kids learn the ins and outs of programming, is showing off the Micro Bit, a minicomputer that will be distributed to about a million school children in the country to teach them how to code and create hardware designs.

The Micro Bit joins a growing array of mini-computers and development boards—such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino devices—that creators are looking to get into the hands of students, hoping to foster a lifelong interest in programming and hardware development.

BBC officials showed off the final design at an event July 7 in London, promising that the minicomputer—developed in conjunction with such tech vendors as chip designer ARM, semiconductor maker Freescale, device builder Samsung and software giant Microsoft—will be given to every child in Year 7 schools (11- and 12-year-olds) in the United Kingdom by October.

In all, almost two-dozen companies are either helping to build the device or are promoting it. Officials first talked publically about the Micro Bit in March.

The BBC began developing the prototype in September 2014 and now is in the final stages of design and testing, according to Sinead Rocks, head of BBC Learning. The Micro Bit is part of the BBC's larger Make It Digital educational effort to inspire youngsters to get involved in coding, programming and digital technology.

"This is no ordinary giveaway—the BBC Micro Bit is programmable," Rocks wrote in a post on the BBC blog. "And there's no real way to tell you what it does—because that will be entirely dependent on how the children who get one, choose to program it."

The broadcaster not only worked with teachers to ensure the device would fit into their curriculum, but also with partners to ensure that it will peak and hold the interest of the students being targeted, she said.

"From a tech perspective, we've been focusing on how best to create something that gives instant gratification for the most basic beginner but also, has the potential to handle much greater complexity," Rocks wrote, noting that during trials for the device, children initially would program the Micro Bit to see their name in LED lights. "But then in just a few short weeks, they've started attaching it to other devices—things like Arduinos and Raspberry Pis and that's when the possibilities can really blow your mind. There has been talk of metal detectors, thermometers, real-time messaging and weather forecasting and more, which can all be created by children with a Micro Bit."

The Micro Bit measures 1.6 inches-by-2 inches and is powered by a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 chip. There is an accelerometer, micro-USB connector, Bluetooth Smart antenna and 25 individually programmable LED lights. In addition, the Micro Bit offers three digital/analog input/output rings and two programmable buttons. The BBC reportedly also will offer a Website to help users do programming and test their code, which can be written in such languages as C++, Python, JavaScript and Touch Develop from Microsoft.

While the BBC will give away the devices to school children in the fall, the broadcaster reportedly is planning to establish a non-profit organization that will license the technology and make it available for sale worldwide through retailers or channel partners.