30 Companies Got Together to Build a Cute Device, the BBC micro:bit

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Kavita Kapoor, chief operating officer, Micro:bit Educational Foundation, speaks with Dilin Anand from EFY.


Q. Could you introduce our readers to the BBC micro:bit and what it’s for?

A. The BBC micro:bit is a hugely exciting new tiny hand held device, that enables people to learn about technology and engineering. I have taught little kids to program “hello world” in a few minutes.

BBC micro:bit started as a BBC-led project where 1 million devices were distributed to 11-12 year old children across the UK. This is a very large roll out for a small country like the UK. The BBC micro:bit is now looked after by the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, which is a not-for-profit company ensuring that the micro:bit is available now to all.

Technically the BBC micro:bit is a pocket-sized programmable device. It has a screen, onboard sensors and the capacity to add additional input and output devices. It can be programed using a variety of free coding platforms, from simple drag-and-drop blocks to full text, on a PC or laptop or on a Bluetooth enabled smart phone or tablet. The website comes with a wide range of free teaching materials. It simply delivers huge capability at a low cost

Q. What inspires the BBC to invest resources for fostering computer education?

A. The BBC has always had an education remit and they launched the BBC Micro in the 1980s, which were small microcomputers that were available in almost every classroom back then (including mine). They supported this device with a lot of teaching material, which helped it and computing in the UK to quickly become popular. Unfortunately, UK technical skills have been diminishing over the years since the 80s and we are now left with a very small number of people who take up these new skills each year. In fact, this number was so low in 2015 that the BBC was really inspired to make a change here. That’s where the BBC micro:bit comes in.

Q. What were some of your initial observations while working with people and the BBC micro:bit?

A. In our checks, we saw a lot of kids reprogramming the device to build games and to bring their ideas to life. Research shows that 76% of girls who had exposure to the BBC micro:bit decided to dabble in technology, although they were previously not so interested in it. This is really good news.

Q. You’ve got a grand vision — 100 million teachers, parents and children inspired with the BBC micro:bit. Could you share your strategy to achieve it?

A. We’re looking at a global roll out, and we believe that the Indian market and our strategic partners (ARM, Samsung, Microsoft) will be able to bring about great traction in the Indian market. India being a country whose people have a bias towards engineering is also important to us. We are also planning to open source the entire design so that anyone anywhere can manufacture these boards quickly and easily.

Q. What are your personally favourite projects with the BBC micro:bit?

A. I was part of a charity last year, where we were going to schools to teach children on scratch projects with Raspberry Pi, Arduino and BBC micro:bit. We worked with schools, and the winning school came out with a back-alignment solution that had the capability to say whether you were slouching. Because of the history that I had with BBC Micro, I had an inclination to learn to program and get my hands dirty, I love gardening and my friends and I sat down last weekend to build a project that ensured my plants will get watered by the BBC micro:bit. There is no end to the real world applications for this little device!


 

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