At the heart of the BBC micro:bit is the nRF51822 SoC

BBC micro:bit

At the heart of the BBC micro:bit is the nRF51822 SoC from Nordic that integrates the micro:bit’s computer brain where the school child-created software code runs and allows the micro:bit to both wirelessly communicate with other micro:bits, and sync to or be updated from smartphones, tablets, and computers via Bluetooth.

BBC micro:bit is delivered to one million UK school children

As of March 22nd, 2016, the BBC micro:bit is being delivered into the hands of up to one million 11-12 year-old UK school children. To put that in perspective that’s every single year 7 child in the UK owning their own personal micro:bit. This means a generation of kids will own their own programmable personal device that they will grow up with and learn to do more and more as time progresses.
BBC microbit logo

BBC micro:bit : What exactly am I?

I am a tiny 4cm x 5cm printed circuit board that can do quite a lot. At my heart sits a Nordic Semiconductor nRF51822 which is a single chip computer in its own right with ultra-low power Bluetooth® wireless connectivity. This chip is where the kid’s programs actually run and where their creative thinking turns into stuff that actually happens. It is the Bluetooth that allows me to talk wirelessly with the world around me, whether that be other micro:bits, smartphones, tablets, or computers. I can connect to USB so programs can be downloaded. There is a compass and accelerometer to detect motion and movement which can form the basis of applications. On my flip side is a 5×5 matrix of 25 LEDs, this can be used to generate visual feedback directly on the micro:bit itself such as emoticons or scrolling text amongst other things. Finally there are two buttons for physical user input and an edge connector allowing almost unlimited expansion possibilities to other devices and objects as people progress from just using the micro:bit standalone and begin ‘wiring it up’ to other things.

The next step in making technology accessible

The BBC has always had a strong educational reputation as a national broadcaster. It made a foray into the world of personal computing, almost before personal computing happened, with the now legendary BBC Microcomputer. Many schools adopted this machine and it is often cited as the starting point for a love of computing and technology by British engineers, entrepreneurs and captains of industry in the IT field. Acorn computers in Cambridge designed the BBC Micro and that company ultimately went on to evolve into ARM today, the company behind the computer processing at the heart of billions of mobile devices that are integral to our modern day lives.

A number of products have appeared over the last 15 years that lower the barrier of entry and reduce the complexity of designing and developing with information technology. Prime examples include Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

The BBC micro:bit makes it even easier to get started from a cost and ease-of-use perspective. Advances in chip production processes mean today a single chip such as the Nordic nRF51822, which is in effect a small computer with wireless capabilities, can handle all the computer processing, wireless communication, and can physically connect to other devices required to enable a vast range of applications.

A kid-friendly development platform

The BBC micro:bit project has brought together an unusually wide and disparate group of companies with very different specializations from media to application software and embedded hardware. Nordic Semiconductor specializes in ultra-low power wireless chips, including Bluetooth. This technology sits at the heart of an ever growing number of applications and will be an integral part of the Internet of Things (IoT) where almost every object, product, or device is made ‘smart’ by low cost wireless connectivity.

This means everybody will use and benefit from ultra-low power wireless technology, yet few have a good understanding of how it works let alone think they can actually create something with it themselves. This is one of micro:bits goals: to make technology accessible, and to turn children from digital consumers into digital creators.

BBC microbit kids coding 1
BBC microbit kids coding 2

Figure 1: BBC micro:bit offers development environments and tools to suit all skill levels

BBC micro:bit partners such as the University of Lancaster that created the micro:bit runtime environment, and Microsoft that created the development environment did a fantastic job in this aspect. Consequently, kids can begin to program the micro:bit with very elementary graphical tools and work their way up at different levels until they can program directly onto the device as a normal professional developer would do. This has been a magnificent feat.

How important is this?

A great number of jobs in the future will be in technology creation. And these are likely to replace a great number of jobs that exist today: especially the more manual or automatable ones (such as driving cars, making coffee, and even routine administrative and legal work). This means the future lies in technology creation which needs to go from being something only for intelligent ‘nerds’ to something everybody can get involved with. Technology creation is also great fun, as witnessed by the huge increase in popularity of the maker and hobbyist movement.

Will the BBC micro:bit be available outside the UK?

Right now the BBC is putting the micro:bit in the hands of UK school children but later this year the project will be open-sourced and made openly available to the world. With an intentionally low cost, high volume approach, and incredible development ecosystem to support it, the BBC micro:bit has the ability to make it into the hands of millions of kids all across the world: a very exciting prospect.

Why Bluetooth?

At the outset of this project it was clear that for micro:bit to appeal to the widest possible audience it had to be interactive and portable to be able to fit into a social role in kid’s lives. This meant being connectable and battery powered. Connectable to other micro:bits and connectable to smartphones, tablets and computers, tools kids today are already familiar with at an early age. For any accessory or gadget that is battery-powered, Bluetooth is the wireless technology of choice due to its ultra-low power consumption that allows many months or even years of operation from regular batteries as small as watch batteries. This is why Bluetooth is the technology driving the wearables revolution we are witnessing today in products such as activity trackers and smart watches.
Bluetooth logo

Nordic Bluetooth IC at the heart of the micro:bit

The nRF51822 Bluetooth System-on-Chip has already won numerous prestigious awards, but being chosen for the BBC micro:bit might just be its highest accolade to date. The demands were straightforward, but were demanding nonetheless. A chip that could deliver Bluetooth wireless connectivity to other micro:bits and devices; that was powerful enough to handle communications under the hood; be compatible with ARM’s mbed development platform; and finally, still be powerful enough to run the software programs the kids would want to run on them. In a single chip!

The micro:bit is also expandable with a break-out strip on one side featuring a whole host of additional input and output options and interfaces. This ensures it can be further expanded and built upon to develop even more advanced applications and to ensure the range of possible uses can match the imagination of the children using it.

The partners

The BBC micro:bit is the result of a ground-breaking partnership on an unprecedented scale. The BBC micro:bit’s product partners have led on the software, hardware, design, manufacture and distribution of the device. It is the hard work and involvement of all the partners that have made BBC micro:bit come not only to life, but made it great!

BBC micro:bit product partners are: ARM, Barclays, BBC, Element14, Lancaster University, Microsoft, NXP, Samsung, ScienceScope, Technology Will Save Us, and Wellcome Trust

BBC micro:bit product champions are: Big Learning Company, Bluetooth SIG, Cannybots, CISCO, Code Club, Code Kingdoms, CoderDojo, Creative Digital Solutions, CultureTECH and Institution of Engineering and Technology

Nordic’s BBC micro:bit blog

– read about the BBC micro:bit from our point of view

BBC micro:bit officially launched

By Geir Langeland

At a major launch event in London on July 7 that I was lucky enough to attend, the BBC unveiled full details of the BBC micro:bit (see the official press release). The BBC micro:bit will sit at the heart of the BBC’s landmark Make it Digital initiative and include a Nordic Bluetooth Smart wireless chip on every board.

Read more

If you had one word to describe the BBC micro:bit what would it be?

By John Leonard

The BBC asked all their micro:bit partners to come up with one word they felt summarized what the BBC micro:bit means to them for inclusion in a video featuring the BBC micro:bit partners. We chose revolutionary.

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Nordic demos Nordic Birds game using BBC micro:bit

By Asbjørn Fossmark

At the launch event in London the BBC organized a demo room where various partners of the initiative, including Nordic, were able to show what the micro:bit could do in the form of a series of really cool demos.

Read more

The BBC unveils the BBC micro:bit, a pocket-sized codeable computer that will be given every 11- or 12-year old child in year 7 and their teachers in the UK for free.

Click on the following links for more detailed info about the BBC micro:bit:

Introduction to the BBC micro:bit

Detailed technical specifications on the BBC micro:bit

Get to know the contribution of all 29 partners of the BCC micro:bit

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