So it was my first time at MozFest this year and it certainly lived up to the hype. It’s one of the most random conferences i’ve attended – it definitely has a festival vibe about it – organised chaos and lots of distractions everywhere! Anyway I digress…  the awesome Spencer Marsden from BBC A/V was there with his BBC Micro:bit foosball table and he talked about the current status of the Micro:bit and his experience developing with it.

The micro:bit – up close and personal

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Above: The breakout board, which the micro:bit can slot into. Hopefully someone will make a T-cobbler style adapter for it so you can slot the micro:bit directly into a breadboard.

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Above: Spencer Marsden from BBC A/V

I won’t bore you with information about the hardware or how to program it, there are plenty of resources online about that. Instead, i’ll comment on on subjects that came up at MozFest.

Distribution woes:

Micro:bit will be distributed to all 11 year olds via registered schools, hopefully some time before Easter (but who knows, it’s already been delayed once!). Unfortunately school staff and hackers won’t get it earlier (and the commercial ~ £10 release is going to be *very* late on in the year) leaving most schools with little exposure to the devices before the mass media campaign starts. Kids expecations are going to be raised, only to be dashed when the teachers are ill prepared to do anything with them, which will probably mean the kids won’t see them until the new school year begins in September.

Hardware troubles:

Apparently a few things are still not fully fleshed out. Bluetooth support is not very useful at the moment, but hopefully that will be fixed by the time the devices are fully released, e.g. allowing them to emulate keypresses (which would be a massive step forwards in having the micro:bit interact with ‘regular’ software and games).

The software:

What I’ve seen of the online programming system looks pretty good, and it functions well, though it does need a little TLC. And the recent announcements that the services powering it will be open sourced is fantastic (if it happens). Hopefully it’ll be integrated into some sort of portal which has lesson plans that teachers can easily re-use.

 

All in all, the micro:bit promises to be an amazing platform that kids can use not only in computing, but in other subjects too – the benefits might not immediately be apparent but hopefully just by having the exposure to the device it will ignite some creative sparks. It’s a nice form factor and I’m a real fan of the big contact points along the bottom edge. It’s not a Raspberry Pi / Arduino replacement, and it doesn’t pretend to be. I’m excited, and I’ll be working with some local schools to make the most of them when they arrive!