The BBC Micro:bit is a groundbreaking piece of kit that could make a generation of kids into future digital innovators.
Can computer coding be fun? If you’re 11 or 12 years old, the answer to this will soon be yes. Starting this autumn, kids this age will receive a BBC Micro:bit, a tiny computer that fits in their pockets. It doesn’t look like a computer the way most of us recognise them as it has no screen or keyboard, just a circuit board. For a child though, the Micro:bit is their digital chemistry set: hook this thing up with some cables and input some code, and they can make all sorts of things: a games console, a loudspeaker – anything they can dream up.
This pioneering programme has some of the best and brightest behind it. In addition to the BBC, 28 other companies have worked on this groundbreaking initiative, including ARM, Barclays, Microsoft, Samsung and Technology Will Save Us. “We are trying to show kids that hacking and coding can be as much fun as picking up a paint brush, or making something out of wood or metal,” Bethany Koby, CEO and co-founder of Technology Will Save Us, told ‘FastCoExist’. In this context, the word “hack” is used in a more pure form: not as someone who breaks into computer networks, but as one who’s skilled, inventive and playful.
In other words, the idea is to turn the next generation of kids into coders, and crafty ones at that. “It was specifically designed for kids from the beginning,” said Koby. This forced the designers to focus on simplicity. “We wanted young people to feel simultaneously confident and challenged as they created projects and inventions with their Micro:bits.”.
Features include 25 LED lights and a motion detector (the “accelerometer”) that can communicate with other devices when you’re on the go. There’s a built-in compass (the “magnetometer”) to sense where you are, plus an integrated magnet that can sense certain types of metal. Bluetooth connects to the internet and interacts with the world, and five Input and Output (I/O) rings mean you can connect the micro:bit to devices or sensors using crocodile clips or banana plugs.
Those who went to school in the 1980s may remember the BBC Micro computer which was instrumental for many who ended up working in technology. The Micro:bit builds on this legacy: “Computing and digital technology has become ubiquitous since [the 1980s], but for many, the emphasis has shifted from creation to consumption,” stated the BBC in its press release, adding how the Micro:bit is intended as a tool to help redress the balance.
On that note, the Micro:bit should be a hit as it allows the next generation to really see how things work, as opposed to items such as smartphones; you can’t just crack open an iPhone and figure out how it works, but the Micro:bit has the potential to encourage this kind of curiosity. “We happily give children paint brushes when they’re young, with no experience – it should be exactly the same with technology,” said Sinead Rocks, Head of BBC Learning, to BBC ‘Make It Digital’. “The BBC micro:bit is all about young people learning to express themselves digitally, and it’s their device to own.”.
The kit measures 4×5 centimetres, is available in a range of colours, and can be coded with something simple in seconds. This means that anyone can get it to work, even with no experience. Though with a bit more training, the Micro:bit can be connected to other devices or sensors, including Arduino, Galileo, Kano, littleBits and Raspberry Pi. All of this makes the Micro:bit a springboard to learning more complex programming, and it may even inspire a kid to make a career of it.
You never know, once your youngster has got the hang of coding, they may even be ready to manage the dedicated server for your business!