Snake On A BBC Micro:bit

The first of the BBC Micro Bits are slowly making their ways into hacker circulation, as is to be expected for any inexpensive educational gadget (see: Raspberry Pi). [Martin] was able to get his hands on one and created the “hello world” of LED displays: he created a playable game of snake that runs on this tiny board.

For those new to the scene, the Micro Bit is the latest in embedded ARM systems. It has a 23-pin connector for inputs and outputs, it has Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a wealth of sensors, and a 25-LED display. That’s small for a full display but it’s more than enough for [Martin]’s game of snake. He was able to create a hex file using the upyed tool from [ntoll] and upload it to the Micro Bit. Once he worked out all the kinks he went an additional step further and ported the game to Minecraft and the Raspberry Pi Sense HAT.

[Martin] has made all of the code available if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one of these. Right now it seems that they are mostly in the hands of some UK teachers and students, but it’s only a matter of time before they become as ubiquitous as the Raspberry Pi or the original BBC Micro.  It already runs python, so the sky’s the limit on these new boards.

35 thoughts on “Snake On A BBC Micro:bit

  1. I might be proven wrong, and maybe I even hope to be – but I still fail to see any appeal in the BBC micro. What even is the point?

    It just looks like such an also-ran in the face of things like Teensy or a $6 ARM board from asia?

    1. I get the impression it was designed by someone who, back in the day, learned to program on something like this:

      And being nostalgic for that minimalism, decided to put a LED matrix on it rather than an inexpensive tiny LCD/OLED. Or perhaps they’re afraid that students, provided with a compact device capable of displaying text, will be tempted to use it to cheat on exams. Who knows. I agree with you though, I don’t see the appeal, and it’s not something I would choose or use unless forced to do so (which students presumably are).

      Although I like the card edge connector approach. Never liked the Arduino’s stacking system, which requires the overhead of a minimum PCB area and headers to work. Breaking out some alligator clips, jumper wires, or a soldering iron for some quick tack connections isn’t too much to ask, IMO.

      1. It would make a lot more sense to turn it into a modern variant of what is pictured. Of course it isn’t cool and won’t attract the kids who are easily distracted or have zero attention spans. Which I assume is their main goal to make computing cool for this particular crowd.

        The card format is just plain weird. The BBC may as well give them a proto-board and some PicAxes or a Micromite.

        The BBC and schools have to be honest and understand that interest in computer and programming isn’t something that all kids or even a majority are interested in, generally it’s a small percentage at best.

        1. Much of what I learned in school was stuff I wasn’t interested in, useless, and now mostly forgotten. But I did take something away from it – the ability to think, research, abstract, and memorize. Which must be practiced.

          Programming in particular teaches an analytical style of thought. I think everyone benefits from a bit of exposure to that, even if they’re never going to be a programmer.

        2. There are STM32F0 dev-boards with TFT displays already. That would be better hardware-wise. And if they wanted to teach kids programming only, they have at least dozen games and educational software for teaching that. I played Colobot, which taught both programming language (C++ derivative I think) and some programming concepts, like parallel processing or communication between programs. There was an online 3D game about building and programming robots for fight on arena. There was game, where one programmed some warriors to fight using swords and magic. There is Yenka, software suite designed specifically for teaching kids science, programming, electronics and math. And it can program some PICs and PICAxes. So many options and all are superior to that tiny, albeit nice-looking dingus from BBC.

        3. It is genius for schools. You give kids a toy. It has far more capabilities then most people will use. It only requires a cable, and a battery to get some results. There is very little requirement from an IT perspective that is needed, like you would need for an actual computer like a raspberry pi. There is -nothing- they can screw up that sending a new program for it to run won’t fix. It can’t screw up any of the schools current infrastructure. It has instant feedback/gratification.

          It uses very simple programming unlike c/c++, and that is far better for teaching logic that is needed rather then struggle with advanced concepts in advanced languages. It isn’t aimed at YOU. It is aimed at like like 7th graders and lower with no programming experience and you want to give them the “see this is easy” moment.

          That being said, it has far more capabilities then what is needed, but that just let’s the kids imagination run wild, and it is all integrated, so when they want to do something most of it is already on the chip.

          The RaspberryPi has issues because you can do a LOT with it, but it is an actual computer, not a microcontroller. So while you can wipe and reinstall the SD cards to get back to zero, it usually requires some configuration changes, and installation of software and the like that has FAR more maintenance overhead then a microcontroller has. Which strays and takes time away from teaching the logic concepts you are trying to teach.

          1. “There is very little requirement from an IT perspective that is needed, like you would need for an actual computer like a raspberry pi.”

            Except, of course, you need a full-blown desktop/laptop computer to program it…

            With something like the a Raspberry Pi the target system can also be the development system


          2. Advanced languages have the same simple programming structures as this simple programming. However, advanced language have much more ‘boilerplate’ code before it will actually do anything. That’s why the Arduino platform is so simple. It hides the boilerplate code of C++.

    2. Precisely, their research department came up with let’s give everyone some cool arduinos with sensors and shit.

      Thier PR department turned this into let’s give them something the BBC owns.

      Third engineers churned out this crap.

    3. It’s simple and if one plans to make a million copies one doesn’t get a better price by re-using an existing design.

      But one can adjust details to fit the intended purpose even better. E.g. by not overwhelming kids with 120 I/O connectors or by not requiring a breadboard or a soldering iron. Or by putting a number of LEDs right onto the board.

      1. This. This is what the board is about.

        Although the best-case scenario is that the kids turn into little engineers, the point of the this is to make this kind of thing accessible to everyone. It’s pitched at 11 year olds and is intended to turn PCBs from ‘computer guts’ into something that they understand.

        If you have children, you’ll know that the first books they learn to read are excruciatingly simple and limited in scope. It’s the very first step, and the sense of mastery achieved will go a long way towards how they engage the next book.

    4. This kind of comment is so typical of people who know a lot about programming and think everybody else knows as much as they do. What sneering attitude people fail to realize is that a $6 ARM lacks is reliable documentation which is not the case with micro:bit. Additionally-children want to see tangible results more immediate than the vapid “Hello, World.” & with a built in community of people who don’t know much also so they can learn together.


    Heh.. BBC has chosen to use all people of color to advertise their product. I wonder how many people of color their actual corporation employs.. How many were actually involved in the Micro Bit product.

    On one hand I strongly support all efforts to get people from all backgrounds involved in science and technology.. I sincerely hope BBC isn’t pandering to some perceived marketing benefit as opposed to honestly engaging people from all backgrounds.

    This may seem like cynicism – but I really dont think it is appropriate for BBC to be so damned exploitative. It just looks like exploitation to me.

    1. Right – the BBC is doing this as a ‘marketing ploy’ – you understand the BBC is not a for-profit corporation, right? They exist on forced subscriptions/donations and advertising revenue.

      1. Donations? No. Just forced subscriptions. The fine for not paying your yearly £156 -200 and some dollars is £1000 –$1500 – to be eligible for this fee, the requirement is that you own a TV. Shitty situation really, it’s more extortion than license.

      2. Right on Ken. I want to play an electronic music keyboard. The so called “big shots” always post their snarky comments about a new keyboard calling them “toys” . It tells you much about the person making ignorant comments like that. Never forget where you came from!

    2. Unfortunately this is typical left-wing BBC Political Ccorrectness clap trap. Quick add another ethnic person.
      Coding in seconds. Really ?

      In the 80s we played with ZX81s as that was all we had. Adventuerous peeps built from scratch with Z80s, 6802, 6502 etc. Times have moved on – a long way. Dumped PCs are F-R-E-E, if you really wanted to learn to write s/w you would already be doing it. If you have not already got the spark no amount of silly little flashing LED cards is going to ignite it.

      1. “Political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct), commonly abbreviated to PC, is a term which, in modern usage, is used to describe language, policies, or measures which are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society”

        So you’re against not offending people?

    3. Doing a Google Image search for “BBC Micro Bit” and scrolling through a few pages of results, most of the students shown are indeed black. Or “Afro-Carribean”, which is apparently the PC term in Britain.

      Watching TV shows produced by the BBC, it also suddenly seems almost mandatory that an interracial relationship be represented. Dr. Who, Walking Dead, etc. I’m not opposed to that.

      But yes, I’ve noticed. Don’t know if it’s marketing, exploitation, or whatever. Don’t know if it’s good or bad. All I know is it definitely feels like they’re pushing some agenda, and I’m glad I’m not the only one to notice.

        1. well that escalated quickly. And here I thought that a certain degree of racial tolerance and equality has been achieved. I really thought we were past the whole ‘let’s point out the race of that person/child and cry conspiracy against the white man’ thing. Guess I was wrong. It’s Trump’s America everybody. Catch y’all later….at the plantation.

      1. Oh, to be clear, I dont mind increased diversity of this type in personalities portrayed, characters, relationships, etc. Not at all, I think it is more representative of the world I know.

        The BBC micro thing seemed so heavy handed, and I have nowhere else to discuss this nonsense.

        I now sincerely wish I hadnt made the post above.

      2. In Britain black people call themselves “black”. Now you know. Does it matter which kids the BBC got to pretend to be interested in this bit of PR for their useless gadget?

        1. “Does it matter which kids the BBC got to pretend to be interested in this bit of PR for their useless gadget?”

          If the BBC went out of it’s way to load their promotional advertisements with white people minorities would very likely be upset, so it is reasonable that whites take exception to being cast out of the material.

          If there were three kids used exclusively to promote the device and only one was white, that wouldn’t stand out as anything other than ‘the luck of the draw’, but if there are, say 40 children spread across two classroom settings and the vast majority are minorities (80-90%), it is obvious someone made a conscious decision to ‘stack the deck’ racially – asking why is a fair question, IMHO.

          1. I still don’t see why this is an issue. First of all, if minorities got upset every time an ad featured whites only, they’d be getting upset …a lot…almost all of the time in fact. Many ads even in non-European/non-Western countries feature whites only and they face little to no criticism from their majority non-white populations.

            Having a few more black/brown people in an ad or two, even all of the BBC micro ads is not the be all end all. They probably came out all at the same time…perhaps from the same school….from an area with large minority population…who knows and realistically who cares.

            Asking why might be a fair question, but when doing it in a comments section on the internet, it tends to descend into borderline racist comments and then descend further into completely racist and offensive comments. i.e. all the crazies come out of the woodwork. This is something that hackaday should screen for. I didn’t come here to read about other people’s borderline racist BS.

            And for what? Its not like this BBC micro thing is that big of a deal anyways. I happen to agree that its not the best tool to get students into programming…..But if it helps children of any color, race, creed or religion learn…even if just a little bit, then I’m still all for it.

          2. sickentiredofbs: “Asking why might be a fair question, but when doing it in a comments section on the internet, it tends to descend into borderline racist comments and then descend further into completely racist and offensive comments. i.e. all the crazies come out of the woodwork. This is something that hackaday should screen for. I didn’t come here to read about other people’s borderline racist BS.”

            Yes, hundred times. The maker community seems to be a bit myopic when it comes to not being a dick (a.k.a. ‘political correctness’). Reading the comments I got the impression that most of us here are privileged white dudes.

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