BBC unveils finalised micro:bit microcontroller

July 7, 2015 | 10:51

Tags: #bbc-micro #education #electronics #micro-bit #microbit #microcontroller #open-hardware #programming #schools

Companies: #bbc #open-source

The BBC has formally unveiled the final design of its Micro Bit educationally-targeted microcontroller, now known under the trendier title of micro:bit, and has committed to releasing its design under an open source licence.

First announced back in March, the Micro Bit - as it was known then - marks the BBC's first foray into producing computing hardware since its partnership with Acorn Computers to build the BBC Micro family. Just as with the BBC Micro, the micro:bit is to be supported with a range of programming from the broadcaster including web content, lesson plans, and TV shows themed around learning to program using the diminutive device.

The design of the board has changed considerably since its announcement, with the BBC's final version featuring three crocodile-clip friendly GPIO connectors and power rails to one edge. Two buttons are located on the top of the board, along with a 5x5 grid of surface-mount LEDs, while an on-board accelerometer, magnetometer, and Bluetooth chips are located on the underside, along with the ARM mbed microcontroller itself. Measuring 4x5cm and described as a 'companion' to other boards including the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and Intel's Galileo, the micro:bit is to be produced in a range of colours to help capture children's interest.

'We happily give children paint brushes when they’re young, with no experience - it should be exactly the same with technology,' claimed Sinead Rocks, head of BBC Learning, of the initiative. 'The BBC micro:bit is all about young people learning to express themselves digitally, and it’s their device to own. It’s our most ambitious education initiative for 30 years, and 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.'

Free micro:bits have been earmarked for launch in October, and will be provided to all Year 7 pupils in the UK without charge - and will be owned by the pupils themselves, not their schools. A commercial launch at an as-yet unspecified price has been scheduled to follow, with no firm date yet available.

As part of its announcement, full details of which are available on the official website, the BBC also committed to releasing the 'technical specifications' for the micro:bit under an open-source licence, which will be driven by a not-for-profit partnership of companies including the BBC, ARM, Microsoft, Freescale, and Samsung.
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