Hands-On With The BBC Micro:Bit

It’s been a long wait, but our latest single board computer for review is finally here! The BBC micro:bit, given free to every seventh-grade British child, has landed at Hackaday courtesy of a friend in the world of education. It’s been a year of false starts and delays for the project, but schools started receiving shipments just before the Easter holidays, pupils should begin lessons with them any time now, and you might even be able to buy one for yourself by the time this article goes to press.

The micro:bit top view
The micro:bit top view

It’s a rather odd proposition, to give an ARM based single board computer to coder-newbie children in the hope that they might learn something about how computers work, after all if you are used to other similar boards you might expect the learning curve involved to be rather steep. But the aim has been to position it as more of a toy than the kind of development board we might be used to, so it bears some investigation to see how much of a success that has been.

Opening the package, the micro:bit kit is rather minimalist. The board itself, a short USB lead, a battery box and a pair of AAA cells, an instruction leaflet, and the board itself.  Everything is child-sized, the micro:bit is a curved-corner PCB about 50mm by 40mm. The top of the board has a 5 by 5 square LED matrix and a pair of tactile switches, while the bottom has the surface-mount processor and other components, the micro-USB and power connectors, and a reset button. Along the bottom edge of the board is a multi-way card-edge connector for the I/O lines with an ENIG finish. On the card edge connector several contacts are brought out to wide pads for crocodile clips with through-plated holes to take 4mm banana plugs, these are the ground and 3V power lines, and 3 of the I/O lines.

The micro:bit bottom view
The micro:bit bottom view

It is obvious when compared to other single board computers that this one has been designed with the pocket of a 12-year-old in mind. It’s a robust 1.6mm thick board that is devoid of  pins and spiky connectors, and on which care has obviously been taken to ensure as low a profile as possible.

In hardware terms it has an ARM Cortex M0 processor from Nordic Semiconductor, a compass, accelerometer, Bluetooth Low Energy and USB as well as the previously mentioned switches, LEDs, and GPIOs.

To use the device, you have the choice of connecting it to your computer via USB, or to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth Low Energy. Sadly none of our devices support BLE so for this review we’ll be taking the former approach.

All programming is performed through a selection of web-based environments, with code editing and compilation performed online and the resulting binary file arriving as a download before being placed on the micro:bit by the user through the filesystem. Since the micro:bit is also an mbed under the hood we’d expect it to be programmable using the mbed toolchain, however that is beyond the scope of this review.

The development environments are all accessible through the micro:bit website, on which no login is required for writing code. On clicking the “Create code” button you are presented with a choice of four, Code Kingdoms JavaScript, Microsoft Block Editor, Microsoft Touch Develop, and Python. The micro:bit leaflet says you need a PC running Windows 7 or later or a Mac running OS X 10.6 or later, however we encountered no problems using Chromium on a Linux desktop. Each of the different environments has its own flavour and audience, so it’s worth considering them all in turn.

The Code Kingdoms Javascript editor
The Code Kingdoms Javascript editor

First up is Code Kingdoms Javascript. This is not what you might expect as a Javascript editor, instead it’s a drag-and drop visual coding environment which creates Javascript blocks. On the left are a series of menus containing the available code blocks, in the middle the coding area, on the right a software micro:bit emulator. At the bottom on the left are buttons to run your code in the emulator, save it with your other scripts, or compile and download it to be placed on the micro:bit.

In use, the Code Kingdoms editor is straightforward and intuitive, the code for a simple compass you can see in our screenshot was very quick to assemble as a first effort. Unfortunately though in our browser at least it was extremely slow, at times almost to the point of being unusable. In particular when you wish to remove a code block it starts up an animation of its waste bin opening up which slows the browser to a crawl. It is not a good sign when you load a web page and hear your processor fan spin up.

The Microsoft Block editor
The Microsoft Block editor

Following the Code Kingdoms editor is Microsoft’s Block Editor. This is a drag-and drop visual editor in the same vein as the Code Kingdoms editor, except that there is no pretence of building a more traditional coding language and it is a much faster and smoother experience. The interface is broadly similar in layout to the Code Kingdoms editor, except for the compile and run commands which are at the top, above the coding window.

In our screenshot you’ll see a very simple environmental monitor designed to display readings from the micro:bit’s various sensors. Yet again this was a simple and intuitive piece of software to assemble for someone using the environment for the first time.

Microsoft's Touch Develop editor
Microsoft’s Touch Develop editor

The third environment is another one from Microsoft, their Touch Develop editor. This is different from the other editors in that it is designed especially for use in touch environments on tablets and phones, so we tested it on an Android phone.

While the Touch Develop editor follows the same idea as the previous two of building code by selecting blocks from menus, it creates something a lot closer to text code, and requires the user to manually enter for example function parameters. We found its help system to be a little difficult on this front, it’s doubtless a useful editor if you know its intricacies but there is quite a learning curve for a first-time user.

The Touch Develop team have made as good a good job of putting a development environment onto a phone screen as they could and it is very usable, however due to the limited screen space it is still a little awkward and crowded. With luck this should be less of an issue for tablet owners.

It is worth pointing out that this editor can be stored as an offline bookmark allowing it to be used without an Internet connection, however it is not clear how any code written in this way might be compiled.

The micro:bit Python editor
The micro:bit Python editor

The final editor choice for the micro:bit is Python, in fact a micro:bit build of MicroPython. This editor lacks the software micro:bit emulator, but is much more like the kind of software environment that Hackaday readers will be used to. The main window is a straight text editor ready to type your Python into, and there is no menu of predefined code blocks. Instead there is a comprehensive introduction, tutorial, and documentation of the various micro:bit Python libraries, and once you are armed with those you can step right in and start writing code.

In use if you are happy with Python it is very straightforward. If your code generates any errors they are displayed scrolling across the micro:bit’s LED matrix which can be rather tedious, however at least the errors we generated were informative and led us straight to the points in our compass code which had gone wrong.

Looking at the libraries available in this editor it becomes clear that Python is the most powerful way to control your micro:bit. As well as the simple functions available in the other editors it offers libraries for I2C, SPI, UART, Neopixels and more. It’s immediately obvious that this is where the micro:bit’s “Wow!” hacks are most likely to be created.

The micro:bit with its battery pack
The micro:bit with its battery pack

Having looked at all the editors, our choices would be Python as the most powerful coding environment for experienced coders, and the Microsoft Block editor as the most useful drag-and-drop environment for beginners. The Code Kingdoms editor is nice but glacially slow, and the Touch Develop editor is a bit fiddly. It’s worth mentioning that all the editors have an option to save code locally, this produces an LZMA-compressed file with raw code in a JSON structure.

Of course, though some of us may benefit from it, this board is not made for Hackaday readers but for children. If it gets the recipe right, in a decade’s time it will be cited by a generation of new graduates as the machine that got them into software, but has it hit the mark? Since the children in question are only now receiving their first lessons it’s a bit early to tell, but the teacher lent us this micro:bit for the review tells us there are only two minor gripes. Not having an on-off switch they go through batteries at a phenomenal rate, and since their failed programs show no LEDs they think they’ve killed it when their software doesn’t work. The first it’s possible the kids will fix themselves by learning to unplug the packs, and perhaps the micro:bit people can fix the second with a software update. If these are the worst things that can be said about it though there can’t be too much wrong with it.

199 thoughts on “Hands-On With The BBC Micro:Bit

  1. Certainly very BBC to build from scratch instead of off-the-shelf. Except the MicroPython (good idea of course). TO be compatible with British sensibilities though there are some unasnwere questions. 1) Does it have Podules? 2) Can it be used as a door stop?

    1. I know, such poor allocation of resources. Typical of the BBC.

      It’d be far more cost effective to just support some open hardware like an arduinos clone but then the BBC wouldn’t be able to take credit for the maker movement.

      1. They are shipping out a million of this. It absolutely makes sense to develop their own Hardware, designing it in exactly the way they want it.

        I’m doing my own microcontrollerboards too, just to be able to make them exactly as I need them, and that’s for just 10 pieces, not one million.

          1. You mean subjectively.

            Objectively, it is the perfect platform for introducing every young kid in the country to very simple computer science with the aim of inspiring them to progress to the Pi etc. – leading to them becoming fulfilled, highly productive, tax payers in the future.

            The BBC is the best organization to promote this with their presentation skills, experience of producing high quality content for this age group, broadcasting resources and brand – and they have demonstrated this with the excellent support site that I doubt you and the others posting Daily Mail/Express type comments here have even bothered to look at.

            Here is the link: https://www.microbit.co.uk/

      2. I willing to bet pretty much everyone on here will claim they could of designed that board so its not a hard task… why not make it.. it interests me enough to buy one as it’s quite different to arduino if/when they are for sale.

      3. Oh my goodness. I’m so glad they didn’t do an Arduino! Maybe you think they should provide a programming environment centered around a Blackberry as well?

        Get with the times man. Arduino had its time, like 5-10 years ago. This more powerful BLE / Cortex M0 probably costs them less than those ancient AVRs would.

        1. Saying Arduino is obsolete is like saying the 2N3904 is obsolete. Or the resistor.

          Arduino is a combination of an 8-bit microcontroller (which still has many uses) and an easy to use development environment with extensive community-supported libraries. Would you suggest a 32-bit processor as the best choice to blink an LED, control a motor, or read a sensor and drive an alphanumeric display?

          Electronics is about expanding options, not developing the one true chip that’s best for every application and declaring everything else obsolete.

  2. Great review. Thanks, Jenny! I’m excited to get one and play with it. As someone who grew up with text-based coding, do you see block coding for the micro:bit catching on in the same way Scratch has? Do you think kids will care to move from block coding to Python once they get used to playing with the device?

    1. I would expect block coding to be the gateway that brings the keen kids to Python and further. Just as in the 1980s when everyone had a go at BASIC, some went further with it and a few learned assembler, so some of these kids will use the block editors to the limit and then transfer to the next level with Python.

  3. What a waste of time and money.

    The stupidest plan to come out of the BBC since they decided to give Top gear to a random guy, an american and a german who speaks broken english…

          1. Is that the show with that drifter who acts like he is a better driver than Paul Trace? And they do silly comparisons like driving up a ski area in snow?

    1. I am no fan of the BBC I am forced to pay them money every year to watch TV even if I don’t watch their channels. However This is one of the great things the BBC has done. Back when i was a kid the BBC created a computer (BBC Micro) to get children used to using computers in the UK, I used one at school and I am glad I did otherwise I may not have been here today reading hackaday.
      Hopefully the micro:bit will inspire the kids of today like I was inspired all them years ago. If you think education is a waste of time and money perhaps you are on the wrong website, Why not go over to facebook and tell everyone your opinion on gorilla’s and zoo’s instead.

      1. Well, no it won’t, because you can’t actually do anything very much with a MicroBit. Most of them will be lost, the proportion depends on the intake.

        1. Well, no it won’t, because you can’t actually do anything very much with a MicroBit.

          Oh please tell us how much better it is telling a little turtle to run in a straight line and draw. You can’t do very much as in it’s not a super computer? Agreed. You can’t do very much compared to every other learning tool in that price range targeted at that age? You have long term memory loss.

      2. Throwing money at something doesn’t intrinsically solve a problem.

        The bbc micro was new, innovative and filled a void.

        This is a shitty pops completing with a saturated market.

        They could have just given kids an arduinos clone and spent the hardware dev money on further improvements to the software.

        I don’t mind if they waste their own money but the BBC is wasting my money on this crap.

  4. I can’t quite fathom why they spent all this time & money making their own board when they could’ve got a run of Pi Zeros or some variant and sent those out, at least they wouldn’t be diluting the pool with yet another platform and there’d be a load of existing support ready to go.

    The world doesn’t need any more dev boards, the need now as far as I can tell is better tools to make use of all the stuff that’s already out there.

      1. Donated by a productive company, sure. By the BBC? Is that a round about way to use tax money? Maybe avoid having the costs on the education system balance sheet (for something maybe not needed or way out of date by the time the kids are 18)? Educate me on the BBC.

          1. No, it’s funded by tax pounds. Dollars aren’t a necessary part of taxation. There, people who live in one of the most insular societies in the world have been educated.

            The TV “license” is a tax on TV use. That goes to a private company to make the same sort of TV plenty of other companies make without being able to force money out of the public.

            Channel 4 has a public service remit. They have to reinvest all their profits into the company. Channel 4 also produce films, and are largely responsible for bringing the British film industry from the joke it was in the 1980s, to the world-class industry it is today.

            Channel 4 show way more “minority interest” programming, more controversial programming, more arts, more science, more politics. The BBC spends their forced levy on Hollywood blockbusters and sports, as well as soaps and those expensive costume dramas the world loves so much.

            If the BBC actually did show stuff that wasn’t commercially viable, and charged maybe 15 quid a year, I’d support them. But they don’t, they compete with commercial channels for viewing figures to try justify the 145 quid they force people to pay, whether they watch the BBC or not. Their output is the same as any commercial broadcaster, except with middle-class snobbery thrown in.

            Channel 4 do a better job of the BBC’s job, and they fund themselves with advertising.

            If I actually paid the TV license I’d be pissed off at the BBC doing a half-arsed job of reinventing Arduino.

          1. Don’t worry about it. Takes several clicks to report for real. They know about the accidental click while scrolling problem.
            I click them more often than you probably!

          2. Ironically, I reported your reply to having been reported while scrolling .. wish I could come up with something that hilariously meta intentionally.

    1. The BBC is taxpayer funded and wouldn’t be able to give out commercial products because they are not allowed to have public relationships with private companies.

        1. They effectively have the right to tax people through the TV licensing system.

          Doesn’t make much difference whether the government collects the tax, or lets a private company do it. You have to pay anyhow.

          1. Danny: You have to pay a license to use a color TV in Great Britain. At least you used to. It is one reason pubs are so popular. You can watch telly at the pub. You don’t have to pay MS to use a personal computer.

        2. To watch British broadcasting corporation channels UK households pay a licence fee each year, but the BBC also got £244.6 million from government grants 2013/2014 e.g from the tax payer. Technically the licence fee is classed as a tax so it can be enforced by the courts if someone watches TV but dose not pay (ref: “Further Issues for BBC Charter Review” House of Lords Session Report. The Stationery Office Limited. 3 March 2006)

        3. Public broadcasters are payed either from a direct tax linked to owning a TV-set or from public grants. On the other hard, you also pay for the commercial media too (the companies that buy advertisement time pass on that cost to you via a surcharge on the products they sell). So I prefer my money going to an organisation set up to serve the public.

        1. Correct however Acorn computers produced it for the BBC as part of a joint venture. The BBC had to have a hand in development, As they would be banned from just giving away an already commercial product. The BBC is banned from promoting any companies or their products under UK law. The reason for this is we have to pay a TV licence to watch TV (Even if we choose to not watch BBC) with all the proceeds going to the BBC. Also as part of the BBC charter they are not allowed to have a Bias as part of the terms of their unique funding model.

          Complicated stuff for an outsider but as we have grown up with the BBC most of us Brits understand how it all works.

          1. Is that like PBS and NPR in the USA not having “bias” because they are funded by the government?
            (for non-US readers, NPR (National Public Radio) is probably the most biased network in the States)

          2. @Ren Biased which way? Left? Right? Or just not your way? PBS is in fact supported by Koch Industries, so perhaps you’re thinking they’re biased to the right.

      1. The BBC not being able to have relationships with private companies, even if that is true, wouldn’t stop them doing their own Arduino, including all the software. The fact that Arduino is an open system, would mean kids can search the Internet for projects and code by other people, beyond just the stuff the BBC and schools provide.

        Sure this white elephant MIGHT inspire kids to share code with each other. But they’re missing out on all the wisdom and experience behind Arduino’s code, and that exists for nearly every piece of peripheral hardware you can imagine.

        If you’re going to do embedded programming, finding and using other people’s code can be an important part of that. It’s not normal for the company who makes the hardware to provide all the available code. But this in-house monolith mentality is exactly how the BBC do everything.

        BTW the BBC Micro, back in the 1980s, was released long (in computer terms) after other home computers were available. The BBC was short of RAM, underpowered in graphics, and cost more than twice as much as a ZX Spectrum, the REAL home computer of ’80s Britain. Almost no kids had BBCs at home. It was only schools who bought them, because there was an education supply deal in place. Schools can be clueless at buying computers, so if you can get yourself into the educational establishment, you can charge what you like, just for speaking the same language as teachers. See the RM Nimbus and it’s successors for a great example of that.

        The BBC Micro was a commercial failure. It had a decent BASIC. But almost no software beyond what Acorn themselves provided. It doesn’t deserve the short-circuited nostalgia people claim for it. No actual kids of the time (puts hand up!) remember their old BBC fondly because they didn’t have one.

        1. Wow, this reads like it comes from someone with a grudge… And a Sinclair Spectrum probably.

          BBC Micro came out in 1981, the Spectrum in 1982. There were many other personal computer systems, as it was a wild market then. Apart from the big American companies (Apple, Tandy, Commodore, Atari) and the wildly popular ZX-81, the Acorn Atom (1980), the Newbrain, Oric 1, Jupiter Ace were just not so popular as the BBC Micro in England.

          To say it was a commercial failure : They sold more than 1.5 million BBC Micros. Same as the ZX-81. All Spectrums combined: 5 million. Yes, those were different times.

          Hundreds of software and hardware companies supported the BBC Micro. It was sold all over Europe and the US (I’m not from GB). Where the Spectrum had a micro-drive, which was in reality a small tape drive, the Beeb had real 5 ¼ ” floppy discs and network capabilities. Not to mention a proper keyboard.
          The BBC processor was twice as fast as its competition the Commodore 64 (2MHz!) and yes, you cannot compare 6502 and Z80 clock speeds.

          For a list of quite famous people who do remember their Beebs fondly: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-15969065 (of course, on the bbc website)

          Here’s something not BBC affiliated: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/mar/25/bbc-micro-30-years-acorn-sinclair

          1. Yeah but how many of those BBCs sold to schools? Nearly every school had BBC Micros around that time. I bet that was at least, say, 80% of their sales.

            The BBC had a faster 6502 than the C64, but had a basic, simple, terrible graphics system. The C64 had tile-maps and hardware sprites. The BBC’s most colourful graphics mode used 20K of the chronically limited 32K RAM. So most games stuck with 4 colours.

            It was also loaded with extra ports, unneccessary for home use, but useful in schools. Meant it cost a fortune. A bad choice for a home computer. Well-suited for schools admittedly, who didn’t want to play games (well, except Martello Tower) and were paying for it out of a budget, not a family’s own pockets.

            The BASIC was very good. Clive Sinclair used a Z80 version of it in his Z88 portable computer, also a great machine, and very cheap too. Had a windowing system, menus, etc, and task-switching, though limited to one running task at once. Took RAM and EPROM cartridges for storage. Great little machine, with an advanced operating system. Many journalists and other professional note-takes swore by it. It had a combination word processor and spreadsheet, as well as BASIC and basic PIM software. LCD display, ran for 20 hours use on 4xAA batteries, approximately full-size keyboard with moving keys, but as a rubber sheet, so it was splashproof.

            Sir Clive was a genius. The BBC Micro seems to have been built by committee.

            Commercially, without the BBC’s support and their education deal, it wouldn’t have lasted 6 months.

            Sure you could buy disk drives. You could get them for the Spectrum too, and most other successful home computers. They just usually cost twice as much as the computer itself. Especially in the UK where, until the mid-1990s, pricing policy was to rub the $ out and put a £ in it’s place. Stuff cost from 50% to 100% more, depending on exchange rates.

            The Spectrum could load a 48K tape in 3 1/2 minutes. Commodore and Atari took around 30.

            It’s not the sort of “grudge” that keeps me awake at night, but the perception of the BBC as a successful home computer is completely wrong, though the BBC themselves are keen on promoting it.

          2. BTW when I mention the Spectrum loading a 48K tape in 3.5 minutes, that’s audio cassette tape from an ordinary third-party tape recorder.

            The Microdrive, a “stringy floppy”, was much faster. Could store around 80K per tiny little cartridge, about 3cm square, and read the whole thing in 5 or 10 seconds. Used the same principle as 8-track tape only much smaller, running video tape a couple of mm wide in an infinite loop, and, as far as I know, an ordinary cassette tape head for R / W. A little ULA decodes the small amount of logic, and the whole thing’s mostly driven in software by the Z80, through the Spectrum’s expansion connector, which is pretty much a full Z80 bus with a few extra signals from the computer’s own ULA. After all, what else is the CPU doing while you load a file? Beats sitting and spinning.

          3. I doubt it’s a grudge – my 1980’s school experience was very much the same: Most kids, if they had a computer, had a C64, Sinclair, or Amstrad (or later it was Amiga or Atari) as they were half the price of a BBC and had more support – and often better/cheaper games and joysticks.

            People who had BBC’s were the rich kids, schools who basically couldn’t buy anything else because of the purchasing rules, and the occasional trendy teacher &/or geeks.

            I’m willing to bet the vast majority of the BBC’s sold were into schools where it was the only computer they could buy, and they were often under pressure to step up their technology game.

    2. There are several obvious reasons why they wouldn’t do that. Firstly, they probably couldn’t get a run of Pi Zeros big enough; they’re shipping about a million micro:bits, which is likely around an order of magnitude bigger than the number of Pi Zeros in existence. Secondly, they’d have trouble funding it because they relied on the companies that supplied the hardware to provide the funds. Thirdly, the Pi is horrendously unsuited to the kind of environments they’re aiming at – because it requires a monitor with HDMI, it’s basically restricted to dedicated Pi labs. I understand schools often have trolleys full of laptops that they use to incorporate tech into lessons; the micro:bit is compatible with that approach but the Pi isn’t really. Similarly, school-age kids are much more likely to have a laptop or a smartphone than a desktop PC with the required peripherals to use the Pi. Connecting to the Pi’s GPIOs is also really fiddly and because the connector has 5V right next to pins that will damage the Pi if connected to 5V, a lot of the Pis will end up dead. (Compare the school-science-lab compatible croc clip/banana plug terminals on the micro:bit.) The recommendation I’d heard from someone using Pis in education was to use an Arduino for I/O, at which point you might as well just ditch the Pi altogether. Finally, scuttlebutt is that the existing support isn’t there for the Pi – the teacher training and lesson plans are simply woefully inadequate – though it’s not yet clear the micro:bit is better.

    3. Because it’s hard to make companies do shit for you to help pad out the RPi or arduino ecosystem.

      Try asking Microsoft to make software for your new project to get people into using ardunio…

      On the other hand make a big deal about how it’s an entirely new project and you’ll be dripping in funding.

      MicroBit is supposed to be a platform to get kids into using RPi (that’s almost their goal specifically)…

      I say kids in year seven are old enough to go directly to the raspberry pi. If they are old enough to use ipads, PCs and have carnal knowledge with my mum when I kill them on COD. They are old enough to use a modern GNU/Linux.

  5. As am American, I have quite a fondness for the BBC. I enjoy the news programs they provide via PRI/NPR and find their international coverage to be top notch in comparison to many of the for-profit media. Obviously UK citizens may feel differently but I think it’s an organization that UK should be proud of, even though you guys pay the bulk of funding (and yes, what happened to Top Gear? Such rubbish now).

    Anyways I see this as an awesome opportunity to demystify computer technology and promote students to learn about programming. This is something I’d have loved if I were a student.

    1. I watched some BBC programs as a kid in former Yugoslavia in the 1980-ies. That had to be among the best TV material ever produced. But judging by British response here, they must have either fallen off in their performance, or produce quite a bit of junk in addition to the good stuff.

      Regarding the BBC microbit discussion, I would say that the re-introduction of the BBC micro/Apple II/… would probably do more good that this board. Computer with direct hardware access, and with ability to write to memory whenever you wish. Basic concepts are easier to learn on simpler, more direct systems. The goals should be hardware/electronics/electrical/hands on, not so much high level programming. For that purpose, modern computers are much better, with their endless variety of languages.

      1. Yes. I think an updated version of the Timex/Sinclair machine would do well – a SELF-CONTAINED computer. Instead of connecting to a TV, include an LCD display. Instead of BASIC, program in Python. Instead of floppies (or cassettes!), use thumb drives or micro-SD cards. No nonsense about having to compile programs for it on another piece of hardware, not no attempt to “dumb down” programming into a drag-and-drop activity. If you can’t figure out how to type commands, you’re not going to be much of a programmer anyway.

          1. The Casio fx-9860gii(SD) can run C, although compiled on a PC. The 9750 can, too, but only after flashing the 9860 firmware. Quite funny that the quite a bit cheaper model is identical to the expensive model (save for the bigger screen and better firmware).

    2. Only the best BBC shows tended to make it to the US. Plus in the UK you have to pay the BBC just to own a TV even if you do not watch the BBC. I believe they have or had some complex rules for people that use their TV for DVDs/Video tapes and or computers back in the 8 bit days. Of course today you can use your HD tv with your computer so…
      The BBC even had vans with detectors looking for rouge tvs.
      Add in the fact that it is a “sort of” government run broadcast system I am sure that a lot of people in the UK are bent out of shape if they feel that the BBC is biased in their political view. Sort of how some people feel about NPR.

      1. the detector vans were a scam run by the BBC, they had vans but could not detect anything. This was to scare people into paying. It worked quite well back in the day however most now know that they invented the whole detector van. BBC still won’t acknowledge that the vans were fake.

        1. As someone who worked for TV Licensing in Northern Ireland, and indeed who had family involved in management at one point I can tell you the vans were real.

          It’s entirely possible that not all the vans on the streets were fully equipped, but there were definitely working detector vans.

        2. They may or may not be fake, but if you think that because you think it’s impossible to detect TV’s, you’d be 100% wrong. TV’s need a tuned local oscillator that’s used to convert the incoming radio signal to a lower frequency they can work with. Those oscillators aren’t shielded, so they leak radio signals themselves… and it’s easy to use another receiver to pick those leaked signals up. Basic RF direction finding points them right at the offending TV.

    3. “Obviously UK citizens may feel differently but I think it’s an organization that UK should be proud of”

      Actually a large number of people do feel proud of the BBC & I’m one of them. The BBC is, however, currently being hard-pressed by a government that wants to privatise it. Bit by bit they’re finding ways of running it down, for example by reducing the funds (pensioners’ don’t pay the license fee, and they propose that non-payment isn’t an offence); forcing the BBC’s web site to dump all its recipes (bought by a Rupert Murdoch owned company the next day). So, it’s in the middle of the biggest political battle of its life.

  6. Heh, I just had a play with the drag and drop editor and simulator – very easy once you get it (I didn’t realise that you either have Number Puzzle-Bits OR Variable Puzzle-Bits).

    1. But you can’t do anything with it without a computer. If you were craving for programming this would achieve less than giving you an Arduino. You’d have a computer to program that, so you might as well program that computer. There are undoubtedly some control uses once you’ve got past the play with the LED array stuff. And considerably less than giving you a RasPi which you could actually use as a programming system without anything else (e.g. Home computer style you could plug it into a TV)

      1. Really? You would give a young big eyed school student a Microcontroller and C++ to cut their teeth on programming? Are you trying to kill all their hopes and dreams?

        As for requiring a computer … so? It’s not the 90s anymore, err make that the 80s since a lot of households had computers in the 90s too.

        As for a Raspberry Pi, you mean a device that’s more expensive, needs external power supply (not included), SD card (not included), typically needs mouse, keyboard, and monitor of its own to even get you started (not included) and basically requires a reasonably good understanding of Linux and networking to get up and running? Are you trying to kill all their hopes and dreams?

        I hope you don’t take the same approach to something like swimming. Here little Timmy, learn to swim. *throws kid overboard in the middle of the ocean*

        1. Yes, I would give a young big-eyed … all of that. Arduino is an excellent starting point. Almost anybody can make the LED blink, and everybody works upward from there at their own pace. Child/adult doesn’t make any difference. Children are NOT dumb adults.

      2. This seems reasonably good. It has a significant number of peripherals integrated that are not usually part of an Arduino board, such as the LED matrix and the accelerometer and the compass. Maybe using 2 D-cells would be better, but some dissatisfaction is always good to challenge kids minds.Omitting a speaker was a pretty good idea. No need to supply schools with annoy-a-trons.

      3. Obviously, if I had a passion for programming in 6th grade, I had a computer. Also I was playing with LEDs at that time (I started to solder all kinds of schematics only in 8th grade). So, I think, I would be very much interested in the ability to (at least) program LEDs at that age.

  7. Code kingdoms looks pretty cool. Micro bit would have blown my little mind when I was 8 to 12 ish…

    It COULD have existed then also, but didnt.. And now it is a bit late, IMO. Still cool. I wonder how the kids like it!

  8. All things considered, The BBC Micro bit can’t possibly be the worst thing that the BBC wasted taxpayer money on.
    I think it’s a nice board ..(especially when combined with MicroPython) and if it encourages kids to stay in school and hopefully learn more about electronics/programming, then it’s ‘taxpayer money well wasted’.

    And for the love of god! please avoid using the Microsoft tool. It’s probably bloated and will very likely spy on you and nag you to update every minute.

        1. Move to Germany and learn real suffering. Here we have a defacto tax even when you DON’T have a bloody TV (like me for 10+ year). Fun thing about that law in Germany introduced a few years, it’s based on a study by some ex high court judge and now his brother, also on the high court has to deal with all those complaints about the law. Guess how that’s going…

          1. You have it much worse, It’s horrible that you have to pay regardless of having a TV or not. On the other hand though a lot of UK TV is imported from America, Australia etc. I would think that since there are not many German speaking countries that the cash is used to produce more German language content. So perhaps the cash collected in Germany is more important??

          2. Actually, you can’t even start to imagine how much worse they have it in Germany. You think all this money goes to making original programs? Wrong! In Germany, all foreign movies and TV programs are required by law to have German dubbing. So all those money go into removing the original soundtrack, with the original voice acting and subtle jokes, and replacing them with really bad dubs, recorded with low budget all by the same 3 voice actors.

          3. I watched a Southpark re-run the last time I was in Germany. Even dubbed in German, it was still pretty funny. A lot of the subtleties of the English language get lost though.

          1. Yeah but taxes should be spent on things that help the people. Not a TV station that’s decided it doesn’t have to earn it’s keep like everybody else’s. People go to prison for watching TV without a “license”.

            The BBC made sense back in 1920wheneveritwas, because of the chicken-egg problem of no radio stations meaning nobody would buy a radio, and vice-versa. Giving it a crank-start with a government-funded station made sense and improved society at the time. But now there’s quite a lot of radio and TV stations, the need for publicly funding one is long past credible.

        1. If you’re asking why Garbz says the BBC isn’t taxpayer funded it’s probably because the BBC puts a lot of effort into being independent and definitely not a state-run enterprise. The micro:bit is not a Govt. initiative, it is a BBC idea and is a consequence of the BBC’s self declared mission to “inform, educate and entertain” (in that order). It seems to me to be a pretty good attempt do do just that.

          1. As long as it doesn’t include depressing music and annui – as in Morse, Midsummer Murders, etc. etc. etc. Oh! The Micro:bit needs a theme song like The Avengers! And a uniform! Or at least a hat and elbow length Science Gloves. Are they missing some opportunities for promotion and costume parties?

  9. I’ve been lucky enough to have my hands on a microbit for a week now and while the toolchain is a little clunky and limited, I think it will all come good.
    As a grown up engineer, I very quickly tired of the microbit website tool and went to mBed where they have a great toolchain, a micro:bit class and a bunch of sample programs to get you running.

    Incidentally, I was able to write code on my phone and transfer it to the micro:bit over bluetooth.
    I had a back-to-the-eighties 3 minutes while I waited for the 400+ Kb file to be transferred over bluetooth.
    It reminded me of waiting while the cassette interface loaded my program at 300 baud and I was expecting the dreaded ‘data error’ at any second. :-)

    I think that most kids ( 6th and 7th graders ) will find the tools pretty appropriate and the few who want to take it further can very quickly move on to other toolchains the way I did.

    All in all, I feel that it will definitely inspire a generation the way the BBC micro inspired me.

    1. Good to know there’s an alternative toolchain. Being hobbled with drag-n-drop programming would drive most people crazy after about a week.

      But I still have to wonder, if you need a smart phone to program it, why not just provide an easy programming interface (i.e., a single-screen editing and runtime environment like we had with BASIC, but with a more modern language) so people don’t get flustered with compiler switches and all that crap, and just teach kids how to program their smart phones?????

  10. I just wanted to point out, that the Micropython port for the Micro:bit actually is a little bit special, because it is a community effort, done entirely by volunteers who wanted the kids to be able to use Python, and not by employees of BBC or the sponsoring corporations.

    1. I hope that the door will swing both ways. So far, micro python is not very popular on Cortex M0 or nNR51 in particular. But there are many small and cheap nRF51 boards out there already.

      1. Actually, the version of Micropython that runs on Micro:bit is specially tailored and cut down in size. Normally Micropython requires a Cortex M4 to run. I’m not sure that is going to change any time soon.

        1. Exactly. I am not expecting a M0-Micropython that is as well-featured as a M3-Micropython. Instead, I am waiting for quite some time for small and cheap STM32F4 boards that cost as much as todays Cortex M0 boards. Now, I hope for the availability of cheap nRF52 boards.(Cortex M4).
          So far, for Arduino, the situation is different. Thus, Micropython on Cortex M0 is great, even if striped down.

  11. BBC done it. Why don’t the USA do it? Japan did it!

    As I recall somewhere around 1970, the Japanese Government promoted Ham Radio as a hobby. Not just a hobby to keep retired folks in line, but focused on high school kids. Licenses were easy to get. Kits were cheap (if not subsidised), and available. Think they focused on 10 — 11 meters with 25 Watts. Even today, JA calls are common on the air.

    They did that little bit of social engineering and look what it did for them. All them kids grew up to be engineers. They are now senior folks at Sony, Panasonic, the list goes on — and they farm out all their work to China and sell to the rest of the world.

      1. Funny thing, I tried swapping I with Q and could not receive anything useful. I lernt you gotta get ’em right. Each by next in the right odor.

        My vision of a wonderful world is one where creative colloquialism prevails — even above spectacular feats of engineering or science.

  12. A lot of negativity here, sure BBC could have used an existing platform. Why was there a need for (insert brand here) to make computers, people could have used an existing platform?
    Commodore, Atari, acorn or one of many others. Everyone has there own story of and sentiment for their starting platform. No doubt some kids might be better off starting with a rasp pi but there are also some that will find this option easier to grasp than other systems. Some may use this as a stepping stone to one of these others.
    Lets not forget that there is going to be a lot of kids who have no interest at all no matter what you give to them. We are all different and variety is the spice of life.

    1. To be fair, they did use an existing platform: mbed. The work involved in creating the hardware isn’t huge, I’m guessing many of the Hackaday regulars could make their own mbed clone if they put their mind to it.

      What they have created here isn’t a hardware platform but a software one with the specific aim of education, to make something that turns the introduction to coding into a toy and gets 11 year olds interested. Which means of course it’s going to seem ridiculously simple and relatively useless for Hackaday readers used to more accomplished environments, but we’re not the target audience.

      It’s interesting to read about who paid for the micro:bit, you find the BBC didn’t foot the bill. Instead the dev costs were paid for by their partners, ARM, Microsoft, Nordic, and more. The Government will probably have had a hand in it too, after all they’re going into state schools. The BBC provides the brand, publicity, and reach, they’re not a hardware company.

  13. Suggestion for version 2:

    Why not use different colours of PCB silkscreen to show the wire traces?

    I think it would make it easier to teach circuits if the connections are clearly visible. Maybe people would be less prone to mistakes “plug it into the black one” instead of “plug it into the one labelled GND”.

  14. It will be an interesting experiment, but I don’t expect much to come of it in terms of significant long term impact.

    $20 Android phones will make a bigger difference and if somebody develops a I/O back for them so you can have a USB port talk to a set of opto-isolatated ports it will really make a difference because then you have the entire “shop” in your hand.

    Imagine a waterproof and toughened phone that is just a bit thicker and has a row of connectors along the top that you can clip onto. Go one further and cover the back with solar panels and you have an educational tool with almost global relevance.

    Sure it would cost a lot more, but the microbit is pretty useless in isolation anyway so you need to factor in all the other gear kids need to get much out of it.

      1. Seriously are you senile or something? You can make and entire Linux/Android based phone with isolated GPIO ports for $20 these days. No extras required. Do the maths on what the microshit really costs to use as a teaching aid.

          1. Honestly, I do wonder if there is something wrong with your cognitive faculties. I am not obliged to tolerate any crap from you just because you can’t help yourself.

          2. Not obliged, of course. But the consequence of not enduring my insufferable stupidity is that everybody else gets to see your true nature, right up front.

          3. Like I care, I’m either in possession of a fact or I am not, it is just that you are a source of bullshit and lies more often than not.

            That makes me useful and you a source of signal noise.

          4. Absolutely you are not obliged to tolerate any crap from me. Which kind of makes me wonder why you continue to do so. Also, I’m not obliged to meet your expectations in any way. My posts are offered free of charge on an as-is basis, mainly for my own amusement and incidentally for the amusement of others, and are not warranted for substance, accuracy, merchantability, or relevance. You can either get what you can from them, or just ignore them. If you are unhappy with what you read, I will gladly return the full purchase price, less reasonable postage and handling charges, payable in advance. Are you one of those bleeding-heart liberals who thinks that the world owes them a living and Hackaday commenters owe them free expert advice? You get what you pay for. “Thank you for your thoughtful feedback *giggle*.” I think that makes us square.

          1. I agree, he is an asshole. And I guarantee he bookmarks this page and comes back a week latter to fill in all of his idiocy to make sure he gets the last word.

        1. I do need to point out, though, that even with no contract, these phones are subsidized by Tracfone. They can sell the phones at a loss because they’ll make up the difference in the first month. These phones are totally locked down.

          1. Cheap Android phones really have hit that level. Look at the $15 Indian ones. It is a very out of date phone are far as the specs go, and does not have any of the extra chips that pump the cost up. The camera is horrid. The cost of phones depends on what extent you need humans to put them together, the materials, and if there is chip IP in them that must be licensed. I saw one one review of that particular phone that indicated it even used plastic for the screen. So avoid all the know cost boosters and you get last decade’s phone, but for a tiny fraction of the cost. Still a great deal if you don’t have a phone at all. Then add the extras, which are mostly a design choice and you get an all in one electronics and computer science learning lab in your hand.

  15. This is an introduction to computing for ALL … repeat ALL kids around 12 years old and will be used by many who are younger.

    It is for children that are not yet ready for the Arduino and RasPi.

    It will spark kids’ interest – enabling and inspiring them to progress at an early age to the Arduino, Pi and beyond.

    The BBC are to be congratulated for the excellence of their website that publicises and democratises (yes … BROADCASTS as in BBC) this project, taking it to the whole population of young kids rather than just those who are fortunate enough to have parents who can provide them with an introduction to computer science.

    The fools who don’t get it should go elsewhere to post their stupid comments about the BBC, Top Gear etc.

  16. A more sensible JavaScript implementation based on Espruino is available for the micro:bit: http://www.espruino.com/MicroBit

    It’ll run proper JS, has a REPL, and even proper source level debug and is the *only one* to have proper Bluetooth Low Energy support – which includes the ability to program and debug via BLE.

    Unfortunately the BBC don’t seem interested in listing it on their site so the majority of people won’t even be aware it exists. While I think what they’ve done is awesome, pretty much every partner has their own interests and everyone has basically just ploughed ahead and ‘done their own thing’.

    Huge respect to ARM though, for managing to fight through all the layers of admin and produce a board that could be programmed with a hex file, so is totally flexible. The micro:bit could so easily have ended up executing some kind of badly thought out bytecode, guaranteeing it was only a toy

  17. Online only compiler in cloud? Too much danger idea.
    1) Any code is shared with compiler vendor. (not too big problem with “school” examples on BBC microbit or for open source)
    2) user don’t have control about compiler version. Some code need exact version of the compiler, for example because never compiler produce bigger binary, too big for device.
    3) Online compiler will be switched off. It is not question “if”, but only “when”. Remove support for “old” devices is same situation. It is not problem for new design, but user not be able to maintain old design.
    4) It create new generation of programmers and for they it will be standard. But normal commercial development of new product are strictly on “secret” mode. This mean that it create programmers inapplicable on this projects. For open source it isn’t problem, but not all projects can be OS.
    5) I can’t be used offline. It isn’t to difficult find place where isn’t connection to the compiler cloud. Sometimes because it is too difficult technically (valleys in nature outback). Sometimes it is cut off by government, for ex China, Iraq, North Korea and many others.
    From my personal view I will boycott any solution with online only compiler. And I hope, that I am not allone.

    1. Absolutely, which is why in the cases you list you’d use the mbed toolchain with this board.

      There’s a good reason for the cloud compilation in the education application it’s designed for though, all the kid needs is a browser and they can get it working. Somehow I think if 11-year-olds or even their not-very-technical teachers were expected to set up a compiler on every PC they use this thing with, the boards would stay in the drawer and never be used.

      Don’t worry, the kids who run with it will discover the compiler when it has sparked their interest enough to delve into the innards of the OS on their Raspberry Pi.

  18. It’s not a computer, it’s a controller, because you need a separate computer to program it. I wish the BBC and everyone involved would call it what it is, because it blurs the boundaries of what a computer really is. The Micro:bit isn’t.

    1. I disagree. Many a fine computer has required another to program it, but that requirement has made it no less Turing-complete.

      It does beg the question, could one make a programming interface using only a 5×5 LED matrix and two buttons? Sounds like a hackaday.io project. :)

          1. Well I hope your jokes are better than your insults because your insults a pathetic. Perhaps there is a life direction decision for you to take there.

          2. I still laughed!
            Happy travels Dan! Your condescending view of the world has opened my eyes, and I will be forever grateful for your valuable insights.

            Lighten up a little. ;)

          3. I’m killing myself laughing here, so would other intelligent people, it is a real shame that you are so gormless that you fail to see the humour in it.

            Do I really need to **spell** it out for you?

          1. I would imagine they’re wired in a grid, to GPIOs on both ends. It’s the usual way, and logical enough for kids to understand. Charlieplexing would be pushing their luck.

            They might be driven through some sort of buffer, but probably not, the controller ought to be able to drive a few LEDs of ordinary brightness. So you possibly could use them as inputs. Depends on whether the relevant pins can also switch to input. Would you need an analogue input? Or would the LEDs be in solar-panel mode, generating a voltage enough to trigger the input? I suppose you could reverse-bias them and test for breakdown.

        1. Exactly, and good luck with that. Also keep in mind that the “2.4” TFT LCD Display Touch Panel Screen UNO R3 Shield Module TF Kit for Arduino” is a complete computer and touch screen, which cost under $15 delivered!

    1. They’re going to sell them retail, so no need to be taken for a ride by an eBayer. They’ll be about £11 from memory, about $16. Which is more expensive than a Zero, but at least you’ll not be paying eBay levels of over-the-odds prices.

  19. Let’s all just let Dan#9445376854 fill in all the comments from now on since he understands everything about everything so much better than everyone else on earth. Dan”s comments will be below this since he must have the last word and loves to take control of all conversations.

    1. Sure, if I find any more relevant facts about the device and it’s potential to act as a touch screen. Would you like that? Perhaps you could finish the thread yourself, with a schematic that proves definitively one way or the other if turning it’s LEDs into sensors is just a question of code.

      That would be very useful, do you think you could manage that? (Yeah the question is rhetorical, we know you are useless or you would have already posted it.)

      Ether way it is an oversight, the code should already exist as is is a killer feature that I have suggested, or the hardware design is a dud that could have been a lot better without costing a cent more. I’m still hopeful that it is the former, that it is a matter of the right code.

        1. Normally I don’t bother being the grammar nazi, but for Dan I can make an exception: you should teach your bot proper usage of your/you’re/yours. There is no “your’s” in English. Also “its” (posessive) vs. “it’s” (contraction). Didn’t they teach you that on YouTube? =) *giggle*

          For everybody else, I’d also like to address the practicality of using LEDs for sensing. LEDs are not terribly sensitive as detectors when compared with specialized photodiodes and photodarlingtons, so they would need a high-gain amplifier unless being used under very bright light, which means you’re going to need additional components as well as separate input pins on your micro. You’ll also need to filter out 50/60 Hz and their harmonics to deal with high-amplitude interference from artificial light sources. It may not be as cool, but it’s certainly a lot more practical to sense either pressure or capacitance. The use of diodes (including LEDs) for light sensing has been known for decades, but the industry has not found this to be useful for user input devices. I’m not saying it can’t be done, and don’t mean to discourage anybody, but it’s not going to be a slam-dunk, as in simply switching a pin from output to input.

          1. More utter bullshit from ” BrightBlueJim” just ignore the fool and have a look at the linked research paper and video. The thing that does matter is how the device in question is wired up, which as expected BBJ is not able to help us with because BBJ is useless.

            As for a bot to emulate me, it would be required to copy what I do, so that point of yours was retarded too.

            FFS BBJ just go away you pest! Go and stalk little girls on facebook or whatever you usually do for kicks.

          1. I know all about fume fever. Not something that I want to experience. I would be upwind wearing a facemask and welding gloves if I ever did it. I think I’ll just buy the powder, the risk vs. reward is too high!

  20. I don’t understand why so many people are being negative towards this discussion topic, I am in Year 7 and I am pleased and honoured to be receiving one, so for all who disagree, think again and remember we are lucky, we live a luxurious life, I am sure people suffering from poverty would want these opportunities, be grateful for what you have.

  21. Volkslight2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrCMGkug6bY
    Volkslight2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uektSAVw9Ican solve the battery eating issue. Its for real, don’t believe it, just run an alkaline battery torch down until light “just” goes out, then put in lower volt bulb, it will run on and on and on PROVING there is alot more energy in there when you think its zeroed. Sounds EZ but hard to do without my patent circuit which beats PWM because PWM doesn’t allow auto-regeneration to happen AND this can work with PWM in series for even better results. +1 386 873 1185 +1 386 837 9455 or Email to : Inventpeace@aol.com

    1. Batteries have a discharge curve. Once the voltage starts falling, it plummets to zero pretty quickly. This is all well-known stuff. Not much to do with Micro-Bits though, but nice try.

          1. Who knows? On the odd chance they actually read this site rather than just posting to open WordPresses, they might be tempted to look up what a discharge curve is, and save themselves years of bother “perfecting” their device.

            The links being to Youtube aren’t very inspiring. Since we’re well into irrelevant territory here, that’s something about HAD these days that pisses me off. If I’m interested in some technical thing, I want to know how it actually WORKS, not just see a fucking video of it’s casing. This requires text, which requires a link to the guy’s own page, usually, ahead of a Youtube video.

            I’m cynical enough to suspect the change to preferring Youtube links is part of some awful strategy with the word “media” in it, that somebody who doesn’t know HAD’s audience very well has read in a book somewhere will work.

  22. Well then, to resurrect an old thread here…

    I was recently wandering through Maplin (one of the UK’s only overpriced electronics retailers still in operation) and I happened upon a BBC Micro:bit.

    I bought one for £14.99 (expensive yes, but how much did that last trip to McDonalds cost you?) and brought it home to show my 6 year old son who immediately picked the thing up and loved it (mostly) because of the on board 5×5 LED matrix that was scrolling messages and the like. He’s been playing with it for a week or so now and was desperate for me to help him code up a basic animated face that he wanted for a lego creation he was working on, he even got my 3 (ok nearly 4) year old daughter interested in the goal and last Sunday morning while we all gave poor mammy a long lie in bed we sat down in my lab and made it happen. The kids were delighted, and I was encouraged by it since my previous foray into trying to inspire my kids with Arduino based projects amounted to very little since they all required a breadboard and loads of patch wires which got quickly pulled out, scuppering the whole thing.

    Reading what’s written above it’s somewhat disheartening that the focus has been mostly around blah blah the BBC makes me pay for TV channels I don’t watch and what a pack of bastards they are (btw I don’t know why people living in the UK are complaining about that since this country delights in taxing everything possible so hey suck it up it’s nothing new) or comments centred around how this thing is a re-spun *duino clone and ZOMG how could they piss away all that money?!

    Personally I think those who fall into the categories above entirely miss the point, or are being narrow minded in the extreme.

    Who cares what platform it runs or how much better it could be the goal has been achieved and it worked absolutely: it inspired young children to start looking at electronics / coding / design & making in a way which I’ve not seen in a long time. It certainly worked better than my attempts with Arduino servo control (etc) and I think it’s largely due to the way the Micro:bit is packaged (my favourite being the on board LED matrix – children need that kind of rapid visual feedback).

    Sure my son is confused as to why this thing can’t run Minecraft but it’s seeded that interest in way that has completely delighted me as a parent and has brought a child’s understanding of how computational / electronic devices achieve their desired goal much more to the forefront of their mind. My kids understood that when the batteries weren’t connected nothing happened, much in the same way they now understand that if there’s power but no code then equally nothing will occur and ultimately that’s what I think this device is all about.

    Come on guys, forget about death and taxes for a while.

    Thanks Auntie!

  23. It’s a very funny way to teach kids massively about how the machine works.

    Plus the awesome feeling of a kid having a multi-sensor device to work it’s imagination.

    Plus the awesome feeling of having a “tool” that does lot’s of cool things reminds me of my youth
    when I got my first SAK after watching 2 seasons of MacGyver ….

    Well cant beat that feeling …

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