Starting on Tuesday 22 March, one million British schoolchildren and teachers will begin receiving their free BBC Micro:bits, a simple computer which is hoped to inspire a new generations of coders and software engineers. The computers are available to children aged 11 and 12.
Delayed due to power management problems, the Micro:bit is the long-awaited successor to the BBC Micro of the 1980s, another device intended to bring affordable computing into the homes of the masses. A bare-bones computer with little more than a circuit board, the Micro:bit is similar to the Raspberry Pi, a cheap British computer popular among computer hobbyists.
Given to the pupils and teachers directly rather than schools, it is hoped the Micro:bit will help counteract a digital skills shortage blamed for the UK not yet being able to compete on the same scale as the US and California's Silicon Valley. An accompanying Android app is available now, with an iOS version still in the works and launching soon.
Anyone not in years seven or eight (year eight in Northern Ireland and S1 in Scotland) will be able to buy the BBC Micro:bit at a later date. A price hasn't yet been announced, and while it will be affordable for most it is unlikely to match the entry-level Raspberry Pi, which starts at just £4.
'A very special moment'
"This is a very special moment for us, our partners and most importantly for young people across the country," said Tony Hall, the BBC's Director-General. "The BBC Micro:bit has the potential to be a seminal piece of British innovation, helping this generation to be the coders, programmers and digital pioneers of the future."
Those partners include Microsoft, which supplied the computer's programming language. Samsung helped develop the Android app, while Nordic Semiconductor, NXP and Lancaster University are also involved with the project. Over 20 companies and institutions are involved in some way in making the Micro:bit.
The Micro:bit is little more than a circuit board with buttons and LED lights. It comes with a USB cable and a battery holder, while teachers will be given a 32-page instruction booklet to help teach children how to write code for it. Children are expected to use the dedicated website to work on their own coding projects.