BBC delivers pocket-sized codeable computer to 1 million kids in the UK

One million pocket-sized codeable computers are today making their way to every year 7 student in England and Wales, year 8 student in Northern Ireland and S1 student in Scotland.

The BBC micro:bit, launched as part of the BBC’s ‘Make it Digital’ initiative, allows young people to get creative with technology, whatever their level of experience, and aims to help develop a new generation of digital pioneers.

Students can program their micro:bit to become anything they want – from simple games to smart watches and even fitness trackers – by using one of the code editors at, or the mobile app, and by connecting it to other devices and sensors.

The website also features a range of resources and tutorials to help teachers, parents and students take advantage of the BBC micro:bit’s vast potential.

>See also: How we can prepare the UK today for tomorrow’s tech jobs

It’s the BBC’s most ambitious education project in 30 years and builds on the BBC Micro initiative, which helped introduce the nation to computing in the 1980s.

The micro:bits will be delivered nationwide through schools and made available to home-schooled students over the next few weeks, but they will be the students’ devices to own.

This allows students to keep their device as they move up through the school, and to continue bringing their ideas to life outside of school and term time.

Some additional devices have been included in the rollout to enable teachers to extend their BBC micro:bit lessons to students in other year groups.

Following the nationwide rollout, the micro:bit hardware and much of the software will be open-sourced, and the devices will be available to buy from a range of retailers.

Money generated from these commercial sales will be used to further encourage as many people as possible to join what the BBC calls ‘the coding revolution’.

Tony Hall, BBC director-general, said: “This is a very special moment for us, our partners and most importantly for young people across the country. The BBC micro:bit has the potential to be a seminal piece of British innovation, helping this generation to be the coders, programmers and digital pioneers of the future.

“Only the BBC could attempt a project this ambitious, on such a large scale, and I’m thrilled we’ve persuaded so many people to get behind this and make it happen.”

The micro:bit is the result of 31 partnerships with the BBC, each taking on a different element of the device, such as software, hardware, design, manufacture and distribution.

The device was created using hardware and software development kits and compiler services from ARM, while Nordic Semiconductor supplied the chip that integrates its computer brain and allows to it communicate via wireless and Bluetooth.

NXP Semiconductor provided the microcontroller that manages the micro:bit’s USB connection, the accelerometer and magnetometer that enable the device to react to motion and the direction it’s facing, and a system-level electro-static protection device (ESD).

Meanwhile, Microsoft developed the website to host code editors for all one million micro:bits, and has supplied two coding languages: Microsoft Touch Develop, a text-based language, and Microsoft Block Editor, a graphical coding language. It has also provided learning resources, and produced a getting started guide for teachers and students.

Samsung developed the Android app for the BBC micro:bit, connecting it to smartphones and tablets that will support the coding environment and allow young people to program on-the-go. It has also developed student projects and teacher resources for the micro:bit.

Barclays has supported the distribution and manufacture of the micro:bit by incorporating it into its digital education programmes, while the Wellcome Trust will provide real-life contexts for teachers and learners around the UK to use the micro:bit through direct initiatives to schools.

Lancaster University designed and developed the micro:bit’s core code, and will continue to support the community as it grows.

Element14 manufacturers the BBC micro:bit and has worked closely with all partners in areas such as component selection, cost optimisation and design for manufacture. It has also leveraged its manufacturing, logistics and packaging capabilities to safely deliver the first 1 million units into the UK.

>See also: A view from inside the education technology revolution

“Working with our many partners to create opportunities for children to code, make and discover, together we aim to build the chances of the next generation,” said Jessica Cecil, controller at Make It Digital. “BBC micro:bit represents a major milestone in our bid to inspire a new generation of digital innovators.

“As part of our Make it Digital initiative, we want everyone to discover more about the digital world.  We're offering easy-to-use devices like the BBC micro:bit, up to 5000 Make it Digital traineeships across the UK, and shows on the BBC such as Girls Can Code and Calculating Ada to achieve just that.”

Sinead Rocks, head of BBC Learning, added: “The BBC micro:bit has seemingly limitless potential, especially when paired with other hardware, and we can’t wait to see what students will do with it.

“They’ve already come up with all kinds of ideas during testing and at events around the country – some ideas help solve some of life’s daily challenges, some could have business potential, and others are just great fun.

“Teachers have been quick to embrace it too, which is so important to the success of the project, and they have already made valuable additions to our online resources.”

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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