BBC wants to give 1 million schoolchildren a free micro:bit computer

The BBC and partners today unveiled the BBC micro:bit – a pocket-sized, codeable computer.

In the BBC’s most ambitious education initiative for 30 years, up to 1 million devices will be given to every 11 or 12 year old child in year 7 or equivalent across the UK, for free.

The BBC micro:bit is a pocket-sized computer that you can code, customise and control. It measures 4cm by 5cm, will be available in a range of colours, and is designed to be fun and easy to use.

The device also connects to other devices, sensors, kits and objects, and is a great companion to Arduino, Galileo, Kano, littleBits and Raspberry Pi, acting as a spring-board to more complex learning.

It will start arriving in schools in late October, giving children a chance to settle into new schools, and teachers the opportunity to build this into lesson plans for the rest of the academic year.

Users will be able to save and test their creations on a dedicated website, microbit.co.uk, available later in the summer.

Key features include:

  • 25 red LEDs to light up, flash messages, create games and invent digital stories
  • Two programmable buttons activated when pressed. Use the micro:bit as a games controller. Pause or skip songs on a playlist.
  • On-board motion detector or 'accelerometer' that can detect movement and tell other devices you’re on the go. Featured actions include shake, tilt and freefall. Turn the micro:bit into a spirit level. Light it up when something is moved. Use it for motion-activated games.
  • A built-in compass or 'magnetometer' to sense which direction you’re facing, your movement in degrees, and where you are. Includes an in-built magnet, and can sense certain types of metal.
  • Bluetooth Smart Technology to connect to the internet and interact with the world around you. Connect the micro:bit to other micro:bits, devices, kits, phones, tablets, cameras and everyday objects all around. Share creations or join forces to create multi-micro:bit masterpieces. Take a selfie. Pause a DVD or control your playlist.
  • Five Input and Output (I/O) rings to connect the micro:bit to devices or sensors using crocodile clips or 4mm banana plugs. Use the micro:bit to send commands to and from the rings, to power devices like robots and motors.

Each element of the BBC micro:bit is completely programmable via easy-to-use software on a dedicated website (available later in the summer at microbit.co.uk) that can be accessed from a PC, tablet or mobile.

Your personal area on the website will allow you to save and test your creations in a simulator before they are transferred to your micro:bit, and the available tools scale to be as complex as your ideas, imagination and skills require.

BBC and partners will be working closely with teachers to ensure that all necessary resources and support are available in advance of the device’s distribution this autumn, supporting the curriculum.

BBC Learning will also provide resources including Live Lessons, getting started videos, projects and tutorials.

Product partners include:

  • ARM - providing mbed hardware, software development kits and compiler services
  • Barclays - supporting overall product delivery and outreach activities
  • element14 - sourcing components and managing the manufacturing
  • Freescale - supplying the sensors and USB controllers
  • Lancaster University - creating and writing the micro:bit runtime
  • Microsoft - providing the TouchDevelop web-based programming tools and hosting service as well as teacher-training materials
  • Nordic Semiconductor - supplying the main processor and enabled Bluetooth Smart
  • Samsung – connecting the BBC micro:bit to phones and tablets, and developing the Android app
  • ScienceScope - distributing to schools and developing the iOS app
  • Technology Will Save Us - designing the shape, look and feel of the device
  • The Wellcome Trust – providing learning opportunities for teachers and schools

Product champions, who will help to support the device through outreach, engagement, educational resources and additional services include, Bluetooth SIG, Bright Future, Cannybots, Cisco, Code Club, Coderdojo, Code Kingdoms, Creative Digital Solutions, CultureTECH, Institution of Engineering and Technology, Kitronik, London Connected Learning Centre, MyMiniFactory, Python Software Foundation, STEMNET, TeenTech and the Tinder Foundation.

More details on each partner’s role and contribution can be found here.