The BBC has begun delivering up to a million of its micro:bit mini computers to school children in the UK for free. Announced last year as part of the organization's Make it Digital initiative, the micro:bit is a pocket-sized programmable device aimed at encouraging young people to code.
The micro:bit is similar to other micro computers like the Rasberry Pi or Arduino. It is based on ARM mbed hardware and features an LED display, buttons, a motion detector, a compass and sensors. It can also be connected to other devices, sensors and everyday objects.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
Users can program the micro:bit using online code editors or an accompanying smartphone app. There are also resources and tutorials available online to help teachers, parents and students learn about the device. The BBC suggests the device could be used to make simple games, smartwatches or fitness trackers, but more ambitious pre-launch projects have included sending one into space, using 1,009 prototypes to build a screen and creating racing cars.
"The BBC micro:bit has seemingly limitless potential, especially when paired with other hardware, and we can't wait to see what students will do with it," says head of BBC Learning Sinead Rocks. "They've already come up with all kinds of ideas during testing and at events around the country – some ideas help solve some of life's daily challenges, some could have business potential, and others are just great fun."
The BBC says the micro:bit is its most ambitious education project since the 1980s, when its BBC Micro computer helped to introduce UK schoolchildren to computing. The scheme was made possible through partnerships between the BBC and 31 other organizations, including ARM, Barclays, element14, Lancaster University, Microsoft, Nordic Semiconductor, NXP Semiconductors, Samsung, Technology Will Save Us and the Wellcome Trust.
The BBC is planning distribute its micro:bit computers to schools across the UK and to home-schooled students over the next few weeks. It will also be possible to buy the micro:bit from a number of retailers. After the roll-out, the micro:bit hardware and much of its software is expected to be open-sourced.
The video below provides an introduction to the BBC micro:bit.