BBC's tiny, free Micro Bit is designed to spark the flames of coding passion

Auntie's giving away one million of these tiny computers to encourage kids to get into coding

The BBC has unveiled a new miniature piece of "programmable hardware", for now known as the Micro Bit, in a bid to encourage children to dive into the world of coding.

The move echoes the BBC's involvement in the creation of the original Acorn-built BBC Micro, which took root in classrooms of the '80s, showing off the power of mainstream computing and the potential computers can unlock.

The Micro Bit design itself still needs to be finalised from the version you see above, and unlike other DIY computer platforms such as the Linux-running Raspberry Pi, the BBC’s offering uses an embedded software platform which doesn’t run a PC operating system. 

Instead, it's more like an Arduino microcontroller with an LED display and an integrated LED matrix, which can be programmed using fully-fledged PCs, like the Raspberry Pi.

It supports Touch Develop, Python and C++, and it’s meant to be a stepping stone up to more complex coding platforms. The idea behind it is to teach children basic programming, allowing them to, for example, write messages to the LED display (which can also be transmitted to it via Bluetooth 4.0) using connected PCs or even smartphones.

It’s already come a long way from Michael Sparks’ kitchen table prototype above, and once it’s finalised, the BBC plans to send out a unit for free for every single year 7 pupil in the UK this Autumn term as part of a scheme called Make It Digital.

Make It Digital is intended to fill the UK's digital skills shortfall, which is estimated to reach 1.4 million people withing the next five years. Aside from the BBC, the scheme is supported by several tech companies including Google, Microsoft, BT and ARM, and code-teaching organisations such as Code Club, CoderDojo and Young Rewired State.

Once one million Micro Bits have been sent out, there’ll be no more. The BBC is hoping that it will have done enough to inspire young coders, leading them on to bigger and more complicated platforms.

Godspeed tiny coders. May the syntax be with you.