The BBC Microbit is not a computer, that’s important to clear up right at the start. It is a small electronic device that can monitor its environment and accept input from it’s user and then use those inputs to control external devices and electronic circuits. In the industry we call it an embedded system; basically it’s part of a complete control system.
It’s not a computer
Why’s that important to know? Unlike a Raspberry Pi, which is a computer, a Microbit cannot be reprogrammed by the user during the operation of it. It is programmed to perform a particular series of tasks and nothing else. If you want it to do something else, you have to reprogram it. Computers can be made to perform a number of completely different tasks all at the same time and that’s the main difference.
A really useful piece of kit
That doesn’t make the Microbit useless, in fact because it can only be programmed to perform one job at a time it means that…
- The processor can be less powerful
- There doesn’t need to be as much memory or storage attached
- There’s no need for large and expensive screens.
Low cost, well specified
This results in the Microbit being cheap (only £13 compared to a £35 Raspberry Pi), requiring very little power (2 x AA batteries instead of the Raspberry Pi’s 1.5A wall-wart power supply) and that it can have sensors and inputs (compass, accelerator, 3 buttons), output devices (25 LEDs) and communications (Bluetooth) built-in; some of which you have to pay extra for on a Raspberry Pi. For this reason the Micro:bit can be a much better proposition for some ‘maker‘ projects than a Raspberry Pi.
Just like the Raspberry Pi, a whole network of support from volunteers, clubs and not-for-profit organisations and small businesses has been established and there are lots of projects, components and kits available to enable you to use the Micro:bit for a whole host of applications.
One area that the Microbit does seem to have created a niche for itself is in the wearable technology sector. This new area of technology enables you, for example, to take standard clothing and sew microscopic LEDs in to the fabric to make the garment twinkle. You can use wearable technology to make one-off watches and unique jewellery that incorporates electronic components.
technoJAM Microbit workshop
In this workshop we’ll show you how to get started with a Microbit; write a program, upload it to the device and run the program.