Whaleshares Logo

Maker Tools: Introducing The BBC Micro:Bit

creatrPosted for Everyone to comment on, 3 years ago5 min read

"That's always a cool thing to be the voice of what the eyes are seeing. It gives you the role of the Greek chorus and that's always fun to do."
- Jorge Garcia -

Maker Tools: Introducing The BBC micro:bit computer.

I discovered something totally cool for makers the other day while browsing an ad from Frys Electronics, a store that caters to the heart's desire of makers everywhere.

When Frys opened a store in San Marcos about fifteen years ago, I was totally jazzed. The only problem is that I can spend hours there, browsing all manner of maker tools and equipment. On the rare occasions that I attempt to do so, I ultimately go into mental overload, and my brain shuts down. I can only take that kind of exposure in limited doses.


The BBC micro:bit... ~ Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When I spotted the Frys ad for the micro:bit boards, I recalled that my cousin had gotten one for his grandson.

I'm a sucker for small, inexpensive, capable computer control boards. When I saw that each board incorporates USB, Bluetooth LE, an LED display array, a 3-axis accelerometer, a compass, light and temperature sensing, I could not resist dropping $24 US (tax included) to buy two of the boards on sale... Only $12 each, about the price of lunch!

What comes in the box?

Just so you're not misled, essentially all you get is the PC board seen in these photos. You will need to supply your own micro USB cable, not to mention a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer to use as a programming interface. Odds are, however, that you already have these items on hand.

The board is contained in a static-resistant plastic bag. You also get a Safety Guide, printed in about eighty-seven languages and folded up like an ancient road map. Finally, you get a tiny fan-folded color brochure with hints and tips to get you started, as well as references to essential BBC micro:bit websites.


The BBC micro:bit... ~ Image courtesy of JohnnyAndren

What makes micro:bit a maker tool?

You can think of the BBC micro:bit board as a very capable "brain" that you can use to run a wide variety of maker projects.

Fancy some electronic jewelry? How about an electronic name badge? With nothing more than an added 3v battery pack, you can program and use micro:bit for either of those things. Or a pedometer. Or a compass. Lots of cool "instant" gadgets for the modest effort of writing a short program.

How about a walking robot? This will take more "add-ons," but micro:bits are used by makers in their 'bots.

Imagine an automatic doggie door that only opens for your pet, or a ball that tells you how high you threw it?

How about a moisture sensor for you plant that signals your phone when it needs watering?

The micro:bit can be programmed to do all this and infinitely more, limited only by your imagination.


Code editor. ~ Screen capture

How do you program a micro:bit?

Coding a micro:bit is simplicity itself, especially using one of the many available online tools. The image above is a screen capture of this freely available visual editor that provides "drag and drop" simplicity. I wrote a trivial program that displays a spinning image on the micro:bit 5x5 LED array. Almost instant gratification!

And, look at this!


Using the same, free Microsoft visual editor, I was able to create this "I <3 WLS" display in a matter of only a few minutes. I videoed it with my phone, uploaded it to http://giphy.com, and had this animated GIF in minutes... Well, a few more minutes to crop and optimize it here...

Yes, I love Whaleshares, it makes a nice platform for sharing cool things like this...

You know what's ultimately cool?

You can start playing with this editor right now. You don't need to wait to get your micro:bit. The editor has a built-in simulator that lets you see exactly how your program will appear on a real BBC micro:bit computer.

Go ahead, try it: https://makecode.microbit.org/#editor

In days to come, God willing, I'll share some more of my experience with the BBC micro:bit

You should be able to find one available, probably delivered, for about $20 US if you care to take the leap and play with the hardware itself.



BBC micro:bit layout... ~ Image courtesy of Gareth Halfacree

Important Note: My articles often contain hot links to supplemental information. While they aren't essential, you may find added value by following them. Most images also link to useful or related information or articles.

I want to be a good member of this community, and so I promise to take your comments, both positive and corrective, very seriously.

I'm especially interesting in meeting makers. If you make stuff, I would love to read about it and encourage you in any way that I can... Just say "Hi" in a comment, and show me what you're working on; I welcome your links!

Sign Up to join this conversation, or to start a topic of your own.
Your opinion is celebrated and welcomed, not banned or censored!