Exploring Capabilities Of The BBC micro:bit Including What’s New With v2.2

Who designed the micro:bit : The BBC micro:bit is a pocket sized computer designed by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), UK. The micro:bit was originally envisioned as a device to support the BBC’s Make It Digital Initiative which was launched in 2014. BBC brought 29 partners on board to help design the pocket sized computer. From 2016 on-wards, around 1 million micro:bits were distributed to year 7 students, libraries around the UK as part of a project led by BBC Education. The micro:bit foundation was eventually established in October 2016 with the aim of taking digital making, creating to students across the world. You can read more about the BBC Foundation here – <Link>.

The BBC micro:bit was a pocket sized computer packed with a number of different features. The initial version of the BBC micro:bit included the following features –

  1. LED’s
  2. Buttons
  3. Digital and Analog Pins
  4. Bluetooth radio
  5. 2.4Ghz Radio
  6. Compass & Accelerometer
  7. Temperature Sensor
  8. Battery Connector
  9. Reset button
  10. USB micro interface
  11. 16 Mhz Nordic nRF1822 Processor

Explore and learn how to get started with the BBC micro:bit at https://microbit.org/get-started/first-steps/set-up/.

What need does the BBC micro:bit serve : For the initial price point of ~30$ the BBC micro:bit packed a punch in terms of what it had to offer. The BBC micro:bit was going to revolutionize the world of making, creating forever. The BBC micro:bit was designed to address an untapped need, it was designed to address a market that simply had not be catered to before. Not very long ago, if you were a student aspiring to get into electronics, computing you would have to either start with custom off the shelf electronics kits sold at electronics chains and stores around the country or invest in expensive computers with higher level programming software which in most cases was just to complex for someone just starting out. Older kids and adults had the option to take up the Arduino or the Raspberry Pi to explore basics of electronics and computing, but while each of those platforms are really powerful they were just not designed for the newbie, the child just starting out with the basics of computing. The Arduino, Raspberry Pi is just to complex for someone who is just starting out with their learning journey and has never programmed before or just doesn’t have any understanding of the basics of electronics.

The BBC micro:bit changed all of that. The BBC micro:bit obfuscates all the programming complexity by exposing the power of the platform through an easy to use block based programming language accessible at https://makecode.microbit.org/. The BBC micro:bit through the different onboard peripherals and sensors allows the child to explore the world of physical computing. The sensors onboard the BBC micro:bit can be very easily accessed in the block programming language allowing the child to make, create innovative projects that interact with the environment around them. Here’s a view of what the micro:bit v1.3 looked like.

micro:bit v1.3 (source: microbit.org)

What did v1.5 of the micro:bit deliver : Over time things evolved a fair bit and as the board gained popularity across the educational, academic community the BBC micro:bit also gained additional features. v1.5 of the BBC micro:bit now included the following upgrades.

  1. Motion Sensor which combined the Magnetometer and the Accelerometer based on the ST LSM303AGR, v1.3 was based on the FreeScale 3110 Magnetometer and the Freescale MMA8653FC Accelerometer.
  2. USB Interface chip based on the NXP KL26Z instead of the Freescale KL26Z

The BBC micro:bit foundation managed to retain the current price point avoiding an increase in the price of the overall package.

v1.5 of the micro:bit (source: microbit.org)

Goodies delivered by v2.2 : So v2.2. is an real enhancement of some sorts over v1.3 and builds upon the features delivered by the initial platform. Some of the striking upgrades delivered by v2.2 include –

  1. Microphone with an LED indicator
  2. Touch sensitive logo
  3. Notched pads to make easier to connect crocodile clips for electronics experiments
  4. An updated 64Mhz Nordic Semiconductor processor
  5. Motion sensor (Magnetometer, Accelerometer) based on the LSM303AGR
  6. Speaker
  7. USB interface based on the nRF52833-QDAA or the nRF52820-QDAA chip
v2.2 of the micro:bit (source: microbit.org)

What languages can you program the BBC micro:bit with : The easiest way to program the BBC micro:bit is using the Block programming editor provided at https://microbit.org/code/ or using the Python editor accessible at https://python.microbit.org/v/3. There are other ways to program the BBC micro:bit using offline programming IDE’s (Integrated Development Environments). We tend to get kids started with the BBC micro:bit using the block based programming interface. The Block based interface allows for kids of all ages to explore the basics of physical computing in a safe, structured manner making use of the learning resources provided by the micro:bit foundation. As kids gain experience and confidence on the use of Block Programming you have the opportunity to get them to try out the Python editor. A large number of the learning resources at the micro:bit foundation website are now also available in python.

Programming the micro:bit using the block editor
Programming the micro:bit using the Python editor

Closing : The BBC micro:bit is a powerful yet affordable learning platform for kids of all ages to explore the world of physical computing. The learning resources provided by the micro:bit foundation are a great opportunity to dive into computing, explore the physical world through the sensors onboard the BBC micro:bit. The micro:bit combined with Scratch (MIT Scratch Foundation) has truly democratized STEM learning for kids all around the world. Thanks to BBC and it’s partners for giving academics, kids around the world the gift of learning, the gift of making, creating, innovating through the micro:bit.

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