BBC unveils final version of micro:bit coding device for kids

Kids can program the micro:bit board to display an LED pattern with no prior knowledge, the BBC said

The BBC Micro Bit circuit board

The BBC Micro Bit circuit board

The BBC has finalized the design of the micro:bit, the tiny computer it will give to 1 million British schoolchildren later this year to help them learn about computing.

With its technology partners, the U.K. public service broadcaster unveiled the micro:bit's final design on Tuesday, and gave more details of the videos, lesson plans and other teaching resources it plans to accompany it.

At 5 centimeters by 4 cm, the micro:bit is about half the size of a Raspberry Pi, the ubiquitous single-board microcomputer -- but with two push-buttons and a grid of 25 LEDs as its main user interface, the device perhaps appears to have more in common with the MITS Altair 8800.

There is more to the micro:bit than there appears, however. The board holds an accelerometer, a compass, a Bluetooth interface, a Cortex M0 ARM processor from Freescale Semiconductor, an edge connector and three terminals to which wires can easily be attached with those staples of the physics classroom, croc clips and banana plugs.

Power is provided either from a detachable AAA battery pack (early designs called for an onboard coin-cell battery holder) or through a Micro USB connector, which can also be used to program the device.

The micro:bit ships with drivers onboard for the various peripherals and code to display characters one at a time on the LED grid, register button presses or detect when the device is in freefall. Microsoft's TouchDevelop online programming environment, hosted at microbit.co.uk, will let children assemble these blocks of code to perform more complex functions and download their program from a PC to the micro:bit. JavaScript, Python, C++ and the visual programming language Blocks can also be used.

Something simple like displaying a pattern on the LEDs can be coded in seconds with no prior knowledge of computing, according to the BBC.

Between October and December the micro:bits will be distributed to schoolchildren in U.K. schools' year seven, for ages 11 to 12. The BBC and its partners now plan to publish details of the hardware under an open-source license, and to create a non-profit company to provide support, allowing the micro:bit to be distributed in other countries.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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