IoT Innovators Meetup: Meet the BBC micro:bit with Howard Baker

Earlier this evening, I went along to a new group meeting at Canonical (the organisation behind Ubuntu) on London’s South Bank, behind Tate Modern. Nice offices:

The presentation was given by Howard Baker who is a lead at BBC Learning looking at innovating technologies.

His talk was about the background to the micro:bit, the BBC’s initiative to promote software development in schools through a micro device.

It turns out that software development is not taught at schools, something that astonished me, and that Universities complain that the entrants to Computer Science courses have to be taught basic programming skills. In answer to this. the current Director General of the BBC wants an initiative to promote programming, in the same way the Model B did all those years ago. Everyone has a computer these days so, after a few false starts, Howard and his team came up with the micro:bit. It has a small ARM chip, a magnetometer, accelerometer and a neat little 5 X 5 led display, along with a low power blu-tooth transmitter/receiver. It also has a mini-USB port and external analogue/digital connector.

It’s also got a nice web site with on-line editors for producing code to run the hardware: one in a Scratch-like block language, which translates into Microsoft’s Touch Develop language, and one for JavaScript. There will, hopefully, be a Python one as well.

The goal is to roll out the device to 1 million children of 11-12 year old’s (1st year secondary). Howard emphasised the social aspects of the program, saying that it wasn’t just aimed at the children but that the parents could see their children being creative and enthusiastic. In particular, he said that he thought that the idea of owning the technology and making it themselves was fundanental, turning children “from consumers into creators”, being influenced to some extent by the Maker movement.

Overall, it was an excellent presentation on an engaging subject.