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BBC Micro Bit computer delayed until 2016

BBC micro:bit

The BBC's new microcomputer for Year 7 pupils won't arrive until the spring term due to a hitch in manufacturing

Earlier this year, the BBC announced ambitious plans to give every Year 7 pupil in the country a free Micro Bit computer. This small Raspberry Pi-like device was originally meant to arrive in October, but the BBC has since announced that its Micro Bit rollout will be delayed until 2016 due to manufacturing issues. 

The aim of the cheap, low-powered board is to introduce children to coding, but an issue with its power supply means that kids will now have to wait until “after Christmas” to get their barebones computer.

A BBC spokesperson said that the problem had “affected a small number of devices”, but that it was still “expecting to start sending them out to teachers before Christmas and to children early in the new year.

“As a result of our rigorous testing process, we’ve decided to make some minor revisions to the device – getting it right for children and teachers before we manufacture one million units is our priority.”

The Micro Bit initiative has echoes of the BBC Micro, the BBC-sponsored computer of the early 1980s which became one of the first computers in many school classrooms. Whilst the government subsidised the cost of the BBC Micro back in the 1980s, this time around the BBC and its partners plan to give away up to a million of the devices, enough for every Year 7 pupil in the UK.

Channelling the spirit of the Micro for the digital age, the BBC Micro Bit will inspire a new generation in a defining moment for digital creativity here in the UK,” claims the BBC’s Director General, Tony Hall. “All you need is your curiosity, creativity and imagination – we’ll provide the tools. This has the power to be transformative for the UK. The BBC is one of the few organisations in the world that could convene something on this scale, with such an unprecedented partnership at its core.”

The Micro Bit may be 18 times more powerful than the BBC Micro of the 1980s, but it’s by no means a powerhouse by modern standards: its specification even pales in comparison to the £30 Raspberry Pi 2. It has a 32-bit ARM Cortex M0 CPU, no display output, and no expandable storage. Indeed, it’s more of a controller than a standalone computer, and could even be a companion device for the popular Pi. 

The 4cm x 5cm board includes a matrix of 25 red LEDs, two programmable buttons, a motion detector, a magnetometer (or digital compass), as well as Bluetooth and five I/O rings for connecting to other devices and sensors. BBC demonstrations show the device being used as a controller for tablets, to keep score during games, and as a volume control for music equipment. The BBC will launch dedicated software for the Micro Bit that will allow children to program the device using a PC, mobile or tablet. 

The BBC Micro Bit will support Microsoft’s Touch Develop language, JavaScript, Python, C++ and Blocks. Programs are sent to a central server where they are compiled for the Micro Bit, before being downloaded and flashed onto the device via Bluetooth. 

Keen to ensure it’s not seen to be stepping on commercial toes, the BBC says it will open source the technical spec of the device, allowing companies to manufacture and sell the device themselves. The partnership will also create a non-profit company to “oversee and drive the Micro Bit legacy”. Partners on the project include Microsoft, British chip design firm ARM, Samsung and Barclays. 

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