Why the Micro:bit Matters

July 07, 2015 by Jennifer A. Diffley

ARM, Freescale, and Samsung partner up to give away thousands of the micro computers to schoolchildren.

ARM, Freescale, and Samsung partner up to give away thousands of the micro computers to schoolchildren.

It may seem strange that the same company bringing the likes of Teletubbiess and Dr. Who to television is now dabbling in the computer industry, but it's actually something the broadcasting monolith has been doing since the 80's. Over 30 years ago, the BBC partnered with Acorn Computer Group to bring a boxy home computer to schoolchildren in an effort to increase electronic literacy and engage tactile learners. Now, Freescale, ARM, and Samsung have teamed up to reincarnate the Micro as the micro:bit, and it's being given away for free to schoolchildren in Year 7 in the UK. The tiny computer measures 4cm x 5cm and includes 25 red LEDs, two programmable buttons, and an on-board accelerometer and magnetometer. 

“The Internet of Tomorrow is bringing almost limitless possibility to interact with the world around us and the new BBC micro:bit with its unique ability to detect and measure both movement and direction, as well as sensing location and surroundings, should truly encourage more young people to get involved and to experiment and create in the digital world," said Geoff Lees, Senior VP of Microcontrollers at Freescale Semiconductor.

The micro:bit's initial release will be to 1 million schoolchildren (between ages 11-12) in October. Eventually the BBC will make the micro:bit available to the general public.

The move is ingenious. Children now have free hardware that they can utilize for endless projects and that will undoubtedly spark a fascination with electrical engineering. Fostering a love for technology at an early age is a sure way to secure the programmers and designers needed for the world of tomorrow. Plus, putting this kind of power into the hands of children is nothing short of exciting: they are, after all, brimming with imagination and hungry for learning--two of the necessary components needed for creating revolutionary products. It could well be that planting the micro:bit in the UK's schools is the seed needed to grow a British Silicon Valley twenty years from now.

So why isn't this kind of initiative brought to the US? Or to Canada? Or to the Czech Republic? It should be, otherwise children in countries not benefitting from programs like the BBC's may well find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

1 Comment
  • withoutego December 24, 2015

    I was building electronics when I was twelve but I can’t imagine a very high percentage of today’s kids doing so. Hard enough to get them interested in the software, but solder and PCB layout? even tougher. I am all in favor of trying, its a worthwhile effort and the future needs it. This trend of a thousand programmers to one hardware engineer might be a bottle neck. A ratio of one hundred to one may be right considering the capability of CAD and CAM being developed.

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