BBC unveils the landmark micro:bit for pupils across West Midlands

bbcGround-breaking collaboration between the BBC and major digital partners to give a pocket-sized computer to every year 7 child in the UK for free; ambition to inspire digital creativity and develop a new generation of tech pioneers.

The BBC and partners today unveiled the BBC micro:bit – a pocket-sized, codable computer that allows children to get creative with technology. In the BBC’s most ambitious education initiative for 30 years, thousands of devices will be given to every year 7 pupil across the West Midlands for free.

In the 1980s, the BBC Micro introduced many children to computing for the first time. Part of the BBC’s 2015 Make it Digital initiative, the BBC micro:bit builds on the legacy of the Micro for the digital age, and aims to inspire young people to get creative with digital; develop core skills in science, technology and engineering; and unleash a new generation of digital makers, inventors and pioneers.

The UK currently faces a critical skills shortage in the technology sector and the BBC and its partners aim to help change that.

Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC said: “Channeling the spirit of the Micro for the digital age, the BBC micro:bit will inspire a new generation in a defining moment for digital creativity here in the UK. All you need is your curiosity, creativity and imagination – we’ll provide the tools. This has the power to be transformative for the UK. The BBC is one of the few organisations in the world that could convene something on this scale, with such an unprecedented partnership at its core.”

The BBC micro:bit is a pocket-sized computer that users can code, customise and control to bring digital ideas, games and apps to life. It measures 4cm by 5cm, will be available in a range of colours, and is designed to be fun and easy to operate. Something simple can be coded in seconds – like lighting up its LEDs or displaying a pattern – with no prior knowledge of computing. All that’s needed is imagination and creativity.

The BBC micro:bit 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 springboard to more complex learning.

Key features for the micro:bit include:

  • 25 red LEDs which light up, flash messages, create games and invent digital stories.
  • Two programmable buttons are activated when they are pressed so the micro:bit can be used as a games controller or pause and skip songs on a playlist.
  • An On-board motion detector, otherwise known as an “accelerometer’, can detect movement and tell other devices when it is on the go. Its featured actions include shake, tilt and freefall and it can be utilised for motion-activated games or as a spirit level.
  • A built-in compass or “magnetometer” can sense direction and movement.
  • Bluetooth Smart Technology allows users to connect to the internet and interact with the world. It also enables users to share creations, take selfies, and much more.
  • And Five Input and Output (I/O) rings which connects the micro:bit to devices and sensors using crocodile clips or banana plugs.

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 that can be accessed from a PC, tablet or mobile. A personalised area on the website will allow users to save and test their creations in a simulator before they are transferred to their micro:bit.

Sinead Rocks, Head of BBC Learning, said: “We happily give children paint brushes when they’re young, with no experience – it should be exactly the same with technology. The BBC micro:bit is all about young people learning to express themselves digitally, and it’s their device to own. It’s our most ambitious education initiative for 30 years. And as the micro:bit is able to connect to everything from mobile phones to plant pots and Raspberry Pis, this could be for the internet-of-things what the BBC Micro was to the British gaming industry.”

First conceived by BBC Learning in 2012, and initially developed together with the BBC’s award-winning R&D department, the scale and scope of this unique initiative has only been made possible by an unprecedented collaboration between 29 international organisations, pioneering start-ups and transformative education organisations.

The BBC is the overall editorial and project lead for the micro:bit, coordinating the partnership, micro:bit development and delivery, learning resources and on-air and online inspiration for teachers, schools and makers across the UK.

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 – created and wrote 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 – designed 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, Canny Bots, Cisco, Code Club, Coderdojo, Code Kingdoms, Creative Digital Solutions, CultureTECH, MyMiniFactory, Institution of Engineering and Technology, Kitronic, London Connected Learning Centre, Python Software Foundation, STEMNET, TeenTech and the Tinder Foundation.

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

Fundamental to the success of the BBC micro:bit, the BBC and partners will be working closely with teachers, educators and schools to ensure that resources, information and support are available in advance of distribution this Autumn. BBC Learning will also provide resources that support the curriculum including Live Lessons, getting started videos, projects and tutorials.

The micro:bit will start to arrive in schools across the West Midlands in late October, giving children a chance to settle into new schools, and teachers the opportunity to build the innovative device into lesson plans for the rest of the academic year.