With Raspberry Pi, FitBit in mind, BBC device targets microcomputer arena

micro bit
Credit: BBC

The British Broadcasting Corporation announced yesterday that it would jump into the burgeoning market for small form-factor computers with the BBC Micro Bit, a microcomputer that’s sort of a cross between a FitBit and a Raspberry Pi.

Like the Raspberry Pi, the Micro Bit is designed primarily as an educational tool – a simple, programmable board that should help teach kids the basics of electronics and programming, either as an introduction to further computer science studies or just as a general horizon-broadener.

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To that end, the BBC said it’s planning to give away a Micro Bit to every 11- or 12-year-old student in the country in late October, and offer the device for general sale before the end of 2015. (Their full coverage is here.)

The focus of the Micro Bit, however, is somewhat different than the other well-known U.K.-made educational microcomputer – while the Raspberry Pi’s emphasis is on packing a complete, functional computer into as small a device as possible, the Bit features a range of on-board sensors, like a magnetometer, accelerometer, and a 25-LED array that can display letters and numbers. It’s also designed to interface with other devices, like the Raspberry Pi and Arduino.

A couple small downsides: The Micro Bit has to be programmed on a separate machine, unlike Arduino and Raspberry Pi, which can simply be hooked up to a monitor and keyboard. It will also use an awkward battery pack for power on the go, requiring the use of a pair of double-As.

The BBC’s first foray into personal computers, embarked upon for many of the same reasons, was the famous BBC Micro of the 1980s – the U.K.’s answer to the Commodore 64. Many prominent British computer luminaries, including Raspberry Pi creator Eben Upton, have cited the Micro as one of the reasons for their early interest in the field.

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