Mar 24, 2016 | By Alec

When talking about the backgrounds of makers in Fablabs and similar locations, you usually hear the same story: that they became absolutely obsessed with building at a very young age. Whether it was Lego, K’NEX, or an uncle with a garage full of tools, we were all somehow infected at an impressionable age. While great for us, it’s actually unfortunate for the STEM field as a whole, as getting young kids interested in anything educational is always a challenge. British media giant BBC has therefore stepped in, and has just unveiled the BBC micro:bit, a pocket-sized codeable computer packed with sensors that can be used for countless building projects. To promote STEM education, one of these micro:bits will be shipped to a million schoolchildren aged seven or older across the United Kingdom.

Over the past year or so, a steady flow of rumors have been coming in about the BBC’s plans for a possible credit card-sized microcontroller. Through an extensive coalition involving no less than 29 different organizations from across the educational, commercial and academic worlds, including ARM, Barclays, The Bluetooth Special Interest Group, Cannybots, Creative Digital Solutions, Cisco, Code Club, STEMNET, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, various universities, the National STEM Centre and even Samsung and Microsoft, it is now finally here.

The proud team from the BBC has even gone as far as calling this release their most “ambitious education initiative in 30 years,” adding that they are trying to stimulate digital creativity and do their part to train the next generation of technological pioneers. “The UK currently faces a critical skills shortage in the technology sector and the BBC and partners aim to help change that,” they say. “In the 1980s, the BBC Micro introduced many children to computing for the first time and the BBC micro:bit, part of the BBC’s 2015 Make it Digital initiative, will build on the legacy of that project for the digital age. It aims to inspire young people to get creative with digital and develop core skills in science, technology and engineering.”

But one thing is certain: the micro:bit would not have been possible without the extensive backing from all those partners. Chief among them is the UK-based MyMiniFactory, which is providing a wide range of (often 3D printable) accessories that can be downloaded for free: all of them projects that adults would like to work on during a rainy weekend too, like a binary watch, a thermometer, and a basic football game. All, of course, illustrate just what can be achieved with a small controller, a couple of sensors, a 3D printer, and an open source mentality. Various other partners will also be providing projects, inspiration, and even whole kits, like Kitronik – who will give away 5,500 e-textile sewing kits with conductive thread, which can be used to embed LEDs into clothing.

But all partners have been doing their bit on this project, the full list of which can be found on the project’s website here. Microsoft, for instance, provided the TouchDevelop web-based programming tools and hosting service as well as teacher training materials, while element14 sourced sourcing components and managed the manufacturing and Nordic Semiconductor supplied the main processor and enabled Bluetooth Smart. They have been working on the idea since 2012, when it was conceived in the BBC R&D department.

To do all of that, the micro:bit does need to be pretty powerful, and indeed it does seem like the BBC-led team has thought of everything. Essentially, it’s a multi-faceted device featuring 25 LED lights, programmable buttons, motion detection sensors, Bluetooth and USB connection, and easy coding options for kids with absolutely no prior experience. It can also easily connect to other devices, sensors, kits and objects, including the Arduino, Galileo, Kano, littleBits and Raspberry Pi. With a personal area available on, every schoolchild can easily build and save creations that can be transferred to the micro:bit.

What’s more, it fits in a child’s pocket (at just 4cm by 5cm ), is available in different colors and is definitely going to wow its audience, who are mostly eleven to twelve year olds. It is, in short, a tool that any one of us would’ve loved to have had as a kid, and various easy projects are already coming to mind. What about a game controller, an mp3 player, a movement detector, a compass? The sky is really the limit, especially when combined with a 3D printer.

According to Sinead Rocks, Head of BBC Learning, it was only logical that digital skills become part of a child’s curriculum. “We happily give children paint brushes when they’re young, with no experience - it should be exactly the same with technology,” she said on the BBC website. “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.”

The BBC will also continue to work on the micro:bit legacy, and have said they will be collaborating with schools and teachers to ensure that resources, information and support will be available before the fall 2016. The BBC will also provide tutorials and getting started videos to give the kids a running start. All technical specifications, finally, will be open sourced to enable non-profits to join this team and provide their own projects and inspiration.

What’s more, the first projects for the micro:bit are already coming in. Ross Atkin, the British designer behind the educational The Crafty Robot, has already shared his designs for the Microbot: a 3D printed robot that is easily created and programmed through the micro:bit. “With a choice of programming languages and on-board bluetooth it looks like it’s going to be a fun and friendly little microcontroller, he says of the release. “To celebrate we’ve designed our first ‘Microbot’, a little 3D print that quickly and easily transforms your Microbit into a free-standing robot.”

The files for this clever little robot can be found on Thingiverse here.3D printing is fairly easy, and with this Hex file and forthcoming source code, the fun little robot can be programmed to say anything, from “Hello, my name is Microbot” to singing, whatever you want. It’s obvious that the micro:bit is going to add a whole new fun dimension to learning. If only we were young again.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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John Dee wrote at 3/24/2016 4:53:24 PM:

Surely an arduino would be better?

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