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United Kingdom Education Hardware Hacking Programming The Media Build Hardware

One Million School Children To Get Free BBC Micro:bit Computers 157

Mickeycaskill writes with this news from TechWeek Europe: Every Year 7 student in England and Wales, Year 8 student in Northern Ireland and S1 student in Scotland will be handed, for free, a BBC micro:bit computer specially designed to help pupils learn to code. Micro:bits, which are smaller than the size of a credit card and can be hooked up to a mobile app or accessed via the Internet, will be delivered nationwide through schools and made available to home-schooled students over the course of the next few weeks. The students are able to keep their devices as their own, meaning they can work with the device for homework, in school holidays, and use it for more applications as their grasp on coding increases. The initiative follows on from the BBC's Micro programme that was introduced in the 1980s, and sees a partnership between the BBC and some of the world's most notable technology companies such as ARM, Microsoft, and Samsung. The computer will hope to emulate the Raspberry Pi, of which more than eight million have been sold. A BBC story explains a bit about the project's ambitions, and points out a few "bumps in the road"; originally, the hardware was to be in classrooms several months sooner. The BBC's own micro:bit page features more on programming the device, as well as many sample projects.
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One Million School Children To Get Free BBC Micro:bit Computers

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  • This seems a bit anemic in comparison. It looks like it uses another computer or a mobile for user I/O.
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      It's a microcontroller, not a computer.
      I don't understand why you're trying to compare them.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by deniable ( 76198 )
        From the summary - "will be handed, for free, a BBC micro:bit computer " and "The computer will hope to emulate the Raspberry Pi". Does that help?
        • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardprice@nospAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @04:18AM (#51750659)

          It means in success and adoption, rather than performance. Its not a competitor to the Pi, its aimed even more at the educational market and has been deliberately designed in such a way that there is little prospect of a secondary market (so they dont get sold off on ebay).

      • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @07:56AM (#51751269) Homepage Journal

        It's a microcontroller, not a computer.
        I don't understand why you're trying to compare them.

        Because the creators compared them! And they came to the wrong conclusion, that there was a purpose for what they were making. But there isn't. What is really wanted is more Pi Zeros. You can use them for the same stuff as the Micro:bit, but you don't need a host system for development. You can use them with one if you've got one, so you're not giving up anything, and you get dramatically more for your money.

        • A Pi Zero can't run off a coin cell.
          If you don't have a host system for development, a Pi Zero requires a keyboard and HDMI monitor, a usb hub if you want a mouse too. Students don't bring these to school. They are starting to bring laptops and tablets. Anything with Bluetooth 4 or USB can work with a Micro:bit
          A Pi Zero also can't do anything by itself. This thing has 25 leds, two buttons, an accelerometer and digital compass.

          It's cheaper too. The Pi Zero might cost $5, but it's an extra $5 or so to buy the

          • A Pi Zero can't run off a coin cell.

            Coin cells are evil! They are as likely as not to wind up in a landfill. Much better to just go ahead and use Li-Ion. The Pi can run off a single NiMH battery if you use a commonly available and dirt cheap boost module.

            but it's an extra $5 or so to buy the micro-to-non-micro adapter cables for HDMI and USB.

            It's an extra $2 on eBay to buy the USB cable and you may not even need the HDMI cable. The Pi Zero does have composite video out on a header connector. Just taking a quick stab at eBay, I see composite to header for $4. I'm guessing wildly here, but I'd bet that if you poked around aliexpres

            • Sure, the Pi that consumes 2 watts of power, you can run it from a NiMH cell, with a capacity of less than 3Wh, and lose 10% of that in the boost converter.
              That's a whole hour of operation!

              You can run a small 32bit micro off a coin cell for weeks. Days if you're trying to waste power. The CPU itself can only consume 2.4mA at full speed, an extra 10mA when transmitting BLE data.

              The Pi Zero does not have the header attached for $5, it's an extra cost. I said $5 for the cables, you've turned around and now sai

    • by Megane ( 129182 )

      It's a microcontroller, so it should be compared to the Arduino, not the RasPi. In that comparison it's not bad, with an ARM Cortex M0 vs an Atmel AVR. These days the only "cool" thing that AVR has going for it is the availability of DIP packages.

      And this really isn't news until they actually get delivered, because we've already known for months that they were going to give them to school kids.

  • I still have me BBC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @03:46AM (#51750585) Journal

    I've still got my BBC Master from last time around.

    The last BBC computer education initiative worked amazingly well. Having the BBC in a classroom is what got me into programming when I realised I could make it do what I wanted.

    • Do the tapes still work?

      Same for me, started coding on an Acorn Electron at home and BBC in school. In between playing chuckie egg....

    • That's great, but computers don't come with compilers any more.
      • That's great, but computers don't come with compilers any more.

        Neither did the BBC. It came with a very fine BASIC interpreter with a built in and fully integrated assembler. But no compiler.

        • Some computers came with a BASIC Interpreter (not compiler) in ROM. That didn't include the earliest machines such as the Altair and IMSAI, just stuff like the Apple and TRS-80 machines. More advanced machines typically did not. You usually had to buy programming toolkits.

          Actually, a ROM-based interpreter is more liability than an asset once you get into multi-tasking systems. It would be foolish to put a Windows-dependent ROM on a machine that might get Linux installed, and the ROM would operate independen

          • Well, on those machines, the ROM was the OS, AMOS (Acorn Memory Operating System) in the case of the BBC. Strictly speaking the BASIC ROM was optional and in fact the BEEB came with a bank of several ROM slots which were all in the same address space as the BASIC interpreter.

            My school had beebs with a LOGO interpreter too, so *LOGO would disable the BASIC ROM and enable the LOGO one.

            The machine would boot into the MOS shell if the BASIC ROM was removed and I believe into the first active ROM if one was inse

        • by rossdee ( 243626 )

          Does anyone still learn 6502 assembly?

          I never had a BBC but I did have a C=64

        • Way to split hairs. Compiler, interpreter, a way to create your own programs. Computers don't come with them and haven't for quite a while.
          • Way to split hairs. Compiler, interpreter, a way to create your own programs. Computers don't come with them and haven't for quite a while.

            Depends on what you consider as ways to create your own programs.

            MacOS X comes with a programmable shell.

            Any other Unix[like] OS also comes with at least a shell. Linux and BSDs generally come with a full programming env on the install media.

            Any Open Firmware based computer has an entire forth programming environment built into the firmware.

          • Way to split hairs. Compiler, interpreter, a way to create your own programs. Computers don't come with them and haven't for quite a while.

            Since I'm splitting hairs... you can create your own programs now with a text editor and a web browser. AFAIK, pretty much every computer comes with both of those.

          • by deniable ( 76198 )

            Well, the little used Microsoft Windows comes with a couple. The scripting host does Basic of a sort. (VBScript) I prefer JScript if forced to use it. The 'absolutely part of the OS' browser does JavaScript even if you don't go for weird stuff like HTAs. PowerShell is great but GUIs take a bit of fiddling with XML.

            That's out of the box. There are other options for download.

      • by Alioth ( 221270 )

        My Raspberry Pi came with one, so did my Debian workstation. Several compilers, in fact.

      • I'm not sure why this is a problem. They all come out-of-the-box with internet connectivity and an app store/repository, which is better than a ROM-encoded interpreter. If you can get a WiFi signal, you have access to many free interpreters and compilers, no matter what platform you have. Even if you are restricted to web sites only, there are plenty of sites to compile and run programs in-browser. Options are far better today than they were in the 80s, computers far cheaper, and, well, Google.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        That's great, but computers don't come with compilers any more.

        Well, they don't if you count the media that comes with it, but there are compilers available for every OS without cost.

        Linux is obvious, and OS X still has free XCode downloads. Windows has Visual Studio Express.

        Granted, though, Linux and OS X come with the same compilers and development environment that everyone uses - Windows requires you to pay for that.

  • by khz6955 ( 4502517 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @03:47AM (#51750587)
    The micro:bit designed to try and keep the Raspberry Pi out of UK schools. See also how Microsoft acted to sabatage the OLPC initiative. ref [olpcnews.com] .. brand new millennium, same old MICROS~1 :)
    • If Microsoft hates the Raspberry Pi so much, why did they make a special Windows 10 build for it? It's the main supported hardware for their IoT platform https://dev.windows.com/en-us/... [windows.com]

    • by hughbar ( 579555 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @04:50AM (#51750755) Homepage
      Yes, exactly. I've worked on/off as a BBC contractor and watched the top of BBC technology swing from open-source(-ish) to Microsoft, in the time of Ashley Highfield and especially Eric Huggers: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/ent... [bbc.co.uk].

      I agree with the Guardian commentator here: http://www.theguardian.com/tec... [theguardian.com], that calls the initiative 'hugely dickish':

      This is a hugely dickish move by the BBC. The Pi is already solidly and explicitly established as the reincarnation of the ideas behind the BBC Micro, and the BBC should have just got on board and supported it. While there's a case to be made that a tiny embedded board like this doesn't compete with a Pi in hardware terms, it does compete with it for class time, attention and support.

      Like most older Brits, I have a lot of affection for the BBC, but in the last 10 - 15 years, it has lost its way both for technology and TV output.

      • The article ignores the timeline and is written with perfect hindsight as usual.

        When the BBC Micro:Bit project was conceived it Raspberry Pis (the original) were perpetually sold out and cost $35. Even when the BBC Micro:Bit was released it the cheapest Raspberry Pi was still 3 times the price.

        • by hughbar ( 579555 )
          Nope:
          1. First, giving them is essentially destructive in that it is an anti-competitive use of public funds
          2. Currently the 'micro-python' editor is only available as an .exe (that may change)
          3. The Pi costs more because it's actually useful, rather than being an Arduino--
          4. Actually, if they wanted 'this', they could have got behind the Arduino itself

          This is a partial trojan from Microsoft, Google and some of the other cheerleaders packaged as 'generosity' and 'education'.
    • by DrXym ( 126579 )
      Frankly that's an absurd assertion. The bit computer is an ultra simple board with a couple of buttons, an grid of lights, bluetooth and a USB power / cable. It's meant to be for teaching kids with a minimal of setup hassle - plug it into a computer or pair it with a tablet and you can program it. There is no flashing dists, or remote shells, or HDMI or network cables. Just plug it in and go.

      I realise that some Pi zealots see it as a threat but really its an opportunity. Kids will learn key concepts on th

    • by Alioth ( 221270 )

      Really? The micro:bit isn't even remotely like a Raspberry Pi - it's a small ARM M0 microcontroller core (running at 16MHz) with no operating system, Bluetooth and a bunch of GPIOs.

      The Pi on the other hand is a complete microcomputer system and considerably more powerful (1.2GHz, built in WiFi, 3D accelerated graphics etc). It's a much more advanced and complex device.

      If anything, the micro:bit will be trying to steal the Arduino's thunder.

  • by fuzzyf ( 1129635 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @04:05AM (#51750621)
    Why emulate the Raspberry Pi?

    It's cheap and actually produced in the UK.
    • It's cheap and actually produced in the UK.

      Define cheap. The cheapest RaspberryPi is 3x the cost of the Micro:Bit

    • Why not RPi?

      This BBC report [bbc.co.uk] says why:

      Mr Richards has previously taught classes using another British low-cost computer - the Raspberry Pi - but says he believes the Micro Bit is better suited for younger age groups.

      "It's been designed at a lower level that allows children to understand more quickly the concepts that you are trying to get across," he explained.

      "With the Raspberry Pi there are a lot of things that don't make immediate sense. So, I think the Micro Bit will make a great stepping stone that engages younger children before they want to do more serious projects that would require something like the Pi."

      That's what a teacher who's been using both devices thinks. Sounds fair to me. Micro:Bit as a gateway drug to the harder stuff, leading the kids of today into doing hardcore Linux in the future.

    • I think they mean emulate the success fo the raspberry pi in building an ecosystem. Not commercially or in terms of technology but in terms of engagement of kids.

      I personally enjoy programming microcontrollers and the raspberry pi is a bit complicated to run as bare metal for my taste, the GPU gets in the way and it has too many bells and whistles compared with, say and MSP430 or a cortex M0.

      This is about propelling kids toward a better low-level understanding of computing and the only thing I think they

  • The computer will hope to emulate the Raspberry Pi, of which more than eight million have been sold.

    Not literally, of course; not even that figuratively, either, since they're not selling any of them.

  • my daughter is in year 8 not 7, so she'll miss out. and I don't get to play with it!
    • my daughter is in year 8 not 7, so she'll miss out. and I don't get to play with it!

      Don't worry I'm sure she'll be able to grab one off the bus seat or wherever else these year 7s are just going to leave the things.

  • Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these...

    Wait a minute, may be....
  • Micro:bits, ... will be delivered nationwide through schools and made available to home-schooled students over the course of the next few weeks

    And most will end up in a drawer / in the bin or on eBay within a matter of weeks.

    • The plan is to force students to use them through an educational package, so if a student loses theirs (or sells it) then they will have to replace it.

  • Rest it on a balloon or other improvised resonator to maximise the effect.
    • Interesting project, but perhaps not entirely practical for deployment in the field.

      Now pay attention, 007...

      • But they are just about to deploy 1 million of them.

        And for extra sneaky squirrel points you have to work out how to use the multiple axis of the device to decode a full stereo audio stream.
  • Gentle introduction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by itamblyn ( 867415 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @06:00AM (#51750941) Homepage
    As someone who has worked with young students, high school teachers, university students, and university faculty getting Pi's into the classroom (e.g. http://clean.energyscience.ca/... [energyscience.ca], http://rpi.science.uoit.ca/ [science.uoit.ca] I can say that the micro:bit may be a better starting point for really young kids and their tech phobic teachers than the Pi. From what I can tell, the micro:bit isn't really a computer (unlike the RaspberryPi), but rather a peripheral that enables some physical computing.

    There are some ugly sides to the Pi for the uninitiated. I'm not saying one is better than the other (I really like the Pi), but I do think the micro:bit could be a welcome addition to the ecosystem.

    I'm disappointed that BBC isn't making them available to the general community from the get go (or even before release to schools). We have a way better chance and troubleshooting (and populating stackoverflow) issues than they do. Despite the fact that this is intended to be plug-and-play, things never are (especially when they involve locked-down machines like those present at most schools).

    In any case, I'm looking forward to getting one of these things!
  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @07:14AM (#51751121)
    The complaints about Bit vs Pi are like complaining that a Year 1 maths book somehow competes with a Year 2 maths book.

    The bit device is meant to be a simple board that a kid can plug into a PC and run little experiments that teach them the fundamentals of computing. Unlike the Pi it doesn't require teachers or parents to screw around flashing an SD card, or hooking up a network, display, keyboards or whatever to get it working.

    And at the end of the day kids who learn the fundamentals on a bit are far better placed continue learning on the Pi or a computer. So I'd see their place in the world as being complementary to each other rather than competitive. But then again I'm looking at this rationally. I suspect some Pi owners have developed some kind of siege mentality and see other boards as a personal threat.

    • Unlike the Pi it doesn't require teachers or parents to screw around flashing an SD card, or hooking up a network, display, keyboards or whatever to get it working.

      Your imagination has atrophied. You can get preloaded memory cards, and the Pi could be configured to accept a serial connection so that you could use it just like the Micro:bit if that's all you wanted.

      • by DrXym ( 126579 )
        No, my imagination is just fine. I know precisely what's involved in setting up a Pi and it is far more work than one of these bit boards. Especially when multiplied by the number of students in the class.
    • by Alioth ( 221270 )

      But unlike a Raspberry Pi, the Bit requires another computer to program it. The Pi is a standalone computer. The thing programming the micro:bit might end up in many cases being a Raspberry Pi. The ARM M0 development kit for more advanced users is just an apt-get install away on any Debian-based system.

      But I'm not actually disagreeing with you here. The micro:bit is a microcontroller board, more akin to an Arduino than a computer. It doesn't run an operating system. It's a 16MHz ARM M0 microcontroller. Comp

      • But unlike a Raspberry Pi, the Bit requires another computer to program it.

        ...but you won't get far programming a Pi without a mouse, a keyboard and a display etc. In the typical school, you might, maybe, get a class set of Pis, but no teacher is going to lug 30 HDMI monitors, keyboards and mice into their classroom - they're going to book the PC lab. As all the displays in the PC lab already come with PCs attached, why not use them? Or, if the school's been kitted out in the last 10 years, it'll have a laptop or iPad trolley, which won't be much use with a Pi.

        Bottom line: the Pi

      • by DrXym ( 126579 )
        It doesn't need another computer. You can program it from a tablet or phone over bluetooth. The software runs off the website and you can even run the software from a browser on a phone if you want. There is even an emulator so it can be program in the absence of the device. I guess that means kids and teachers have a lot of flexibility in how they do assignments.

        I don't know what it runs as an OS but I guess for teaching kids it really doesn't matter what runs underneath. What matters is it's easy to use

  • Clearly the price of the hardware is now irrelevant - there can't be many places in the world where a one-time $5 per-child expense is unattainable.

    The only limiting factor now is whether kids have the course materials to learn - and whether they have access to a machine with display and keyboard to write their programs on. The coursework isn't going to be cheap - but if done right - and OpenSourced - then the cost can be amortised down to nearly $0. So the one remaining problem is whether these kids will

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