BBC eyes worldwide expansion for tiny educational computer

And then there were two: The Micro:bit Educational Foundation and the Raspberry Pi Foundation both support the teaching of coding worldwide -- but using very different computers

microbit

The U.K.'s national broadcaster, the BBC, commissioned the micro:bit single-board computer for a new educational program that began in 2015.

Credit: BBC

A new educational foundation hopes to introduce children worldwide to coding, using a tiny single-board computer that has changed the way coding is taught in schools across the U.K.

You may have already heard of the Raspberry Pi, a US $35 computer the size of a credit card that, with the addition of a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, can stand in for a desktop machine.

But this isn't about that. It's about the U.K.'s other single-board educational computer, the micro:bit.

The micro:bit is smaller and cheaper than the Raspberry Pi, and it has a built-in keyboard and display, albeit consisting of just two pushbuttons and 25 red LEDs arranged in a five-by-five grid. It was developed for the U.K.'s national broadcaster, the BBC, which gave a million of them to British schools.

Where the Raspberry Pi resembles a low-powered, low-priced PC, the micro:bit is more like an embedded computer, encouraging children to develop their own takes on the internet of things. 

The tiny computer has already found favor in Iceland, Norway, Singapore, and the U.S., and now the BBC and its partners in the project have created the Micro:bit Educational Foundation to promote its use in other countries.

The BBC's head of learning, Sinead Rocks, revealed the move on Wednesday. The broadcaster will continue to support micro:bit users in the U.K., she said, but the independent foundation "will also work to enthuse and support young people on a global scale as well," she wrote.

The foundation will also have support from ARM, Microsoft, Nominet, Samsung Electronics, and the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation, founded in 2009, has a similar mission.

For ARM, at least, the story has come full circle. The company was spun out of Acorn Computers, which created the microcomputer used in the BBC's first educational computing initiative, in 1982. After developing several generations of the BBC Microcomputer, Acorn began designing its own processor, then known as the Acorn RISC Machine.

Now a distant relative of that processor, the 32-bit ARM Cortex M0, powers the micro:bit. It runs at 16MHz, stores code in 16 kilobytes of RAM, and communicates via a micro-USB port, a Bluetooth Low Energy module, and three input-output ports that can carry analog or digital signals.

The original BBC Micro, in contrast, had an eight-bit Motorola 6502 processor, 16 or 32KB of RAM, an analog input, and network, video, audio, and printer ports. Its 32KB of ROM contained a BASIC interpreter, and external storage was on audio cassette tape.

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