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BBC to give development boards to UK kids

Posted: 17 Mar 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Micro Bit  Raspberry Pi  single board computer  Make it Digital 

Every 11-year-old starting secondary school in the United Kingdom will receive a tiny, programmable device called the Micro Bit from the British Broadcasting Corporation this autumn. This is part of the media giant's Make it Digital initiative that aims to improve technology skills in the country.

The company suggests it will need a million of the stripped down embedded software platforms to enthuse a new generation about coding, programming and new technology. The device is basically a PCB with some LEDs and a single micro-USB connector, powered by a watch battery—somewhat similar to the amazingly successful Raspberry Pi, a single board computer.

The exact details of the device are still under wraps, with the current hardware officially termed a prototype until it starts shipping in August. Nor is the BBC giving much away about the cost of developing and manufacturing the Micro Bit, or the total being spent on the Make it Digital initiative.

The broadcaster stressed it does not see the device competing against the Raspberry Pi or similar development boards such as the Arduino, Kano or Intel's Galileo. Instead, the Micro Bit aims to act as a springboard to more complex programmable devices and computers. In fact, collaboration is built in with a Bluetooth link enabling it to communicate with the Raspberry Pi and other devices.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation, which has shipped 5 million of the credit-cards sized boards over the past two years and built momentum for its somewhat similar initiative, said it would develop learning resources for the Make it Digital project.

The Micro Bit aims to be compatible with three coding languages—Touch Develop, Python and C++. It is even smaller than the Raspberry Pi, and the device includes a safety pin at the back, making it wearable.

Micro Bit

The BBC Micro Bit is still a prototype and the details of its design a secret.

The BBC said it wants to recreate the buzz and excitement that a previous project achieved in the early 1980s with the introduction of the BBC Micro that also was augmented by a series of radio and TV programmes. This time around, the company also hopes to help reduce the U.K.'s skills imbalance and encourage a whole new generation of engineers.

The broadcaster is planning a season of coding-based programmes and activities, including a drama based on Grand Theft Auto and a documentary about Bletchley Park, the top secret de-coding operation that significantly shortened the Second World War through the efforts of scientists such as Alan Turing.

The project is supported by a host of partners, who will contribute to the funding of the project, including Freescale, Samsung, Microsoft, Nordic Semiconductor, as well as CodeClub and, predictably, ARM.

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