The BBC believes its new Micro Bit computer will have a major impact on the UK’s digital economy.
A prototype of the mini-USB device was unveiled at the launch of the broadcaster’s Make It Digital programme – which aims to teach kids to code and help unemployed young people learn digital skills – in London this morning.
Following in the footsteps of the BBC Micro, one of the most influential devices of the 1980s, the Micro Bit will be given for free to all Year 7 children – aged 11 to 12 – later this year.
A BBC representative to Develop that after the giveaway is complete, the broadcaster will still have 250,000 Micro Bit devices to distribute in other ways, such as CBBC competitions.
Director general Toby Hall told attendees the device has been designed to “channel the spirit of the BBC Micro into the digital age”.
“It’s going to give many children their first experience of coding,” he said. “With this, we’re hoping to create the next generation of digital innovators.”
He added that the launch of the device will be “a defining moment for digital creativity and a vital one for improving our digital economy”.
BBC representatives told Develop the Micro Bit has already been tested in 14 schools around the country, targeting different age groups – Year 5 and Year 7 – in order to determine who would benefit most.
The BBC stressed that the devices given out later this year will be gifted to pupils, not their schools, enabling kids to continue their coding experiments at home.
Using the array of LEDs, kids have already learned how to make their name scroll through in lights and even programmed a rudimentary ‘rock, paper, scissors’ game: by pressing a button on the device, the LEDs display a random symbol representing one of the three items.
There are plans to eventually integrate widely-used programming languages C++ and Python into the device, and potentially tether it to Raspberry Pi.
“The children who have already tried this out have loved it – and that applies to children of all ages, especially Steven Fry,” said Hall, referring to an earlier video in which Fry, Will.I.Am and Ian Livingstone were amongst many familiar faces championing the need for Make It Digital.