The BBC plans to give a million tiny computers away to 11-year old students at UK schools this fall. The corporation announced the plan earlier this year, and now the BBC has unveiled the final design for the device it calls the Micro Bit.
The little machine isn’t a computer in quite the same way that your desktop, notebook, or tablet is. It can’t run Windows or other desktop operating systems. But it is a programmable device that can help kids learn the basics of software and hardware development.
The device features an ARM Cortex-M0 micro-controller, a series of LED lights that can be programmed to flash, sensors including a compass, magnetometer, and accelerometer, Bluetooth, and a micro USB port. There are two buttons on the device that can be used to control it, plus a reset button.
Students can create programs using a website, test them online, and then transfer them to the Micro Bit using a USB or Bluetooth connection. You can also connect a Micro Bit to an Arduino, Rapsberry Pi, or Intel Galileo board if you want to use it for more complicated functions.
So what can you do with this 2″ x 1.6″ computing device? According to the BBC, you could use the built-in sensors to turn the Micro Bit into a metal detector, use the Bluetooth connection to turn it into a remote control for a DVD player or other devices, or make a simple video game controller.
The design’s been refined a bit since the BBC first announced the project. The buttons and motion sensor are new, but the developers have dropped plans to include a built-in battery. If you want to use the Micro Bit on the go, you’ll need to attach a battery pack with AA batteries.
In the 1980s the BBC undertook a similar effort, working with Acorn Computer to distribute a computer called the BBC Micro to school students.
The new Micro Bit has a much simpler design than the original BBC Micro, and it’s a lot cheaper. But it could help kids learn the basics of programming at an early age.
Computers have also come a long way in the past 30 years. The Micro Bit is 70 times smaller than its predecessor, and runs code 18 times faster.
Want to get your hands on a Micro Bit, but aren’t an 11-year-old school kid in the UK? The BBC says it plans to sell the computers to the general public in the UK and other countries later this year.