Viewpoint: Hands on the BBC micro:bit

The BBC has sent Electronics Weekly a micro:bit.

micro:bit What arrived

We only turned it on 10 minutes ago, and already we are impressed.

I am guessing we have a teachers pack, which has a micro:bit, plenty of excellent-looking documents, batteries with a holder, and a piezo sounder plus crocodile clips.

Straight out of the box something happens.

micro:bit Please push the button

now push the button…

Put the two AAA cells in the holder, plug that into micro:bit, and patterns appear on the led matrix. followed by HELLO in scrolling letters, and an invitation to push on of the two buttons, for which you are rewarded with a led pattern, then the same thing with the other button, then an invitation to SHAKE it.

Only 15 seconds has passed, and already you are interacting with micro:bit.

Don't steal....Open the children’s guide, and after telling you how to put the battery in, there is immediately a project to turn it into a vibration-sensing alarm – already you are wielding croc clops and the piezo sounder.

Don't steal instructionsCan you tell we are enthusiastic about a second brilliant educational computer from the UK?

UPDATE:
I just worked through the ‘Don’t steal..’ exercise and everything went well. It was simple, non-frustrating and took about 15mins.
complete microbit burglar alarmThe language – which was written by Microsoft, but is decidedly Scratch-like – is beautifully intuitive.
However, I did come across my first problem, which is fairly trivial and nothing to do with the electronics or code: The croc clip cases are so slippery that the clip inside flips around and closes every time you try to work one – so opening one needs both hands.

micro:bit and Raspberry Pi

‘Which is best?’ is the wrong question.

Very roughly:

microbit and Samsung phone 504micro:bit is the educational equivalent of an embedded computer (see below) – similar to Arduino in this respect.

  • capable processor (32bit Cortex-M0 core, plus a Cortex-M0+), far more processign power than standard Arduino
  • no mouse, keyboard or monitor connection
  • runs on its own, from a battery, after being programmed via a PC or phone/tablet
  • programmed in Block Editor (like Scratch), Touch Develop and Python running on host PC/phone/tablet
  • has built-in leds to write messages, push buttons, and places to electrically connect things with croc clips
  • in use, for sophisticated display, can communicate with a phone/tablet via Bluetooth

Raspberry Pi is the educational equivalent of a desk-top computer

  • very powerful processor (quad 32bit Cortex-A53 cores)
  • runs high-level (Linux), educational (Scratch), and serious programming (Python) languages
  • interacts with a keyboard, mouse and monitor.
  • has Bluetooth and WiFi
  • best operated from the mains through an adapter

Of course, Raspberry Pi is a very capable embedded computer too – through an increasing range of HATs, but it is always going to draw at least a few hundred mW – so mains power or big batteries.

Most importantly, they are both backed-up with high-quality educational resources, both printed and on-line.

A huge eco-system has built-up around Raspberry Pi, and I suspect the same will be true of micro:bit.

An embedded computer is a computer that generally has no keyboard or mouse, and is hidden away inside something doing a single task – the processor inside a printer, for example. Some computer mice actually have an embedded processor inside them, connecting together the movement sensor, the click buttons and the wire than leads to the PC/Mac.


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