TIny, Inexpensive BBC Micro Bit Now Available for Pre-Orders

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

A tiny programmable board aimed at offering children in the UK the ability to learn programming skills is now up for public pre-order.

The BBC Micro Bit, originally distributed to one million schoolchildren throughout the UK, is now available for preorder on Element14′s website.  Delivery of the product is expected to happen in July.  However, it is currently only being sold in minimum quantities of 90 to resellers like Microsoft, meaning individual consumers will need to continue to wait to purchase one for themselves.

A single micro:bit will come at a cost of $18.72, or $20.60 for a starter kit which includes a BBC micro:bit, mini USB, battery pack, and four project ideas.  For just over $200, a BBC micro:bit Club pack will be available that includes ten devices and “everything needed to get a coding club started.”

The micro:bit project, part of the BBC’s “Make it Digital” initiative, was created in an effort to inspire “a new generation to get creative with coding, programming and digital technology.”  The BBC said that it was always the intention to increase distribution of the device after the initial giveaway.

The BBC began distribution of the devices in March to schoolchildren between the ages of 11 and 13 with the idea that the boards could be used for school projects.  Because the children would own the devices, they would also be able to use them to work on their own projects as well.

Hardware included with the devices includes a number of programmable sensors, Bluetooth connectivity, and a variety of input and output rings that allow the user to link to additional devices and sensors.  In addition, a companion website hosts several code editors and tutorials.

Additional accessories are planned to be introduced throughout 2017 including a power pack, official case, and kits for complex projects such as robotics and IoT sensing, writes Steve Ranger for ZDNet.

Another low-cost micro computer was previously released in the UK that hoped to teach users to code. Called the Raspberry Pi, the goal of that device, however, was to create something that was simple to use for younger students age 11 and up.

Despite the large success seen by the Pi, which sold over eight million units since its initial launch in 2012, its primary user base ended up being a maker community of adults rather than children.  This caused the BBC to find room for the release of its micro:bit.

While other companies are also trying their hand at making the Pi more accessible to children, such as the coding kits created by Kano, the BBC said that it plans to make the micro:bit open source in order to maximize its educational potential.

The BBC worked with a number of partners to create the micro:bit.  Natasha Lomas for TechCrunch reports that this could be a reason why the devices took so long to reach schools because they only began to distribute them in March — close to half a year later than was originally planned.