More than 30 years ago the BBC Micro was the computer experience for most school children. This month brings them right up to date with the roll out of the BBC Micro Bit. Of course, there have been other recent and successful launches of programming kit to get more children interested in technology – most notably the Raspberry Pi.
What is the Raspberry Pi? Well, you might have been living on the dark side of the moon if you haven’t heard of it, but in brief the Pi is a low cost, credit card sized computer that plugs into a monitor or TV and enables people of all ages to explore programming. You can learn Scratch or Python for example, browse the internet, play video, make spreadsheets, play games, and more.
The tech has already been used in a variety of projects from ‘music machines, parent detectors, weather stations, tweeting birdhouses with infrared cameras, saying hello and goodbye to yourself on your phone as you enter/leave the house, control your block world on Minecraft and create a 3D scanner’. It might fly you to the moon next!
The Micro Bit might seem to have missed the bandwagon – but it has some very big advantages over its rivals. Firstly – it’s the BBC. If you need some credibility and some cash behind you to make a thing work – then that will do it.
Secondly they are giving away 1 million of them to Yr 7 students. Well, no-one’s going to say no free kit are they? And sensibly – they have made the Bit to work with and not against the Pi. You can connect the Bit to a laptop, tablet, PC or a Raspberry Pi, or create a network of all these. Raspberry Pi has great free tutorials on the kit including how to network several Pi’s together. So the combination of Bit and Pi, could be a 10 year old future network engineers dream!
The 2 massive advantages this BBC kit has however, and the things that we believe will probably ensure its success are:-
- It’s wearable technology. The hope is that is can be used in Textiles – a subject more often taken by girls and therefore encouraging more girls to get involved in tech. Using conductive thread that's laced with nanofibres of silver, the thread acts as wire, sending signals from the Micro Bit to connected components.
- Whilst programming on a tablet can be convenient and cool – you don’t always have one with you. However, it is pretty likely you will have your phone and as most smartphones use the same sensors as the Micro Bit, you can compile scripts and simulate programs on the go using Microsoft's Touch Developer app without having the Micro Bit there.
In short, when you launch a new technology – whether network or otherwise – it’s really helpful if you have a lot of cash, a big reach, massive credibility and you know your audience – oh, and you also need to fill a gap. We think the Micro Bit does all of the above.
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