The BBC micro:bit is one of the most ambitious initiatives Premier Farnell has ever been involved with. Working closely alongside the BBC and a number of major global partner corporations, the project is set to ensure that every UK school child has access to coding equipment from the age of 11.


Our Strategic Alliance Director Richard Curtin recently conducted an in-depth Q&A about how the project came about and why Premier Farnell were so keen to be involved.


BBC micro:bit


Why does the BBC care about coding?


The BBC has been closely involved with technology and education throughout its existence. The launch of the original BBC Micro in the early 80s was an enormous milestone in computing that gave the founders and CEOs of some of the biggest technology companies in the world their first introduction to the possibilities of coding and computer technology.


With the introduction of core computing skills to the UK National Curriculum in 2014, the BBC saw an opportunity to revive the BBC Micro initiative for a new generation, helping to ensure powerful, accessible coding equipment is available to all UK students regardless of social or economic background. In giving one million devices away to schoolchildren for free, they hope to be the catalyst for the UK education system to develop into a genuine world leader in coding and electronics.


How did Premier Farnell get involved?


Premier Farnell signed a partnership agreement with the BBC in May 2015, after an introduction from our partners at ARM Holdings, who were one of the first external companies to get involved with the BBC micro:bit initiative. Operating on a not-for-profit basis, Premier Farnell has been closely involved with design optimisation, manufacturing and logistics for the project, in addition to helping to ensure the device can be produced at a sustainable cost.


At Premier Farnell, we view the BBC micro:bit initiative primarily as a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative and legacy project, with an immediate focus on delivering the device to one million school children across the UK, free of charge, in 2016. However, we also see the device evolving into a powerful global brand in the future, following in the footsteps of market leaders such as Raspberry Pi and Beagle Bone Black.


Which partner corporations did Premier Farnell work with?


There are many leading global electronics brands involved in the BBC micro:bit initiative.  Premier Farnell worked particularly closely with NXP - whose microprocessor and sensing solutions are featured in the device, Nordic Semiconductor – who provided wireless and Bluetooth functionality, ARM – who developed the embedded technology featured on the device, and Microsoft – who created the web environment which supports the BBC micro:bit website.


There was also extensive feedback from students and teachers at every stage of design and production, in order to ensure that the device remained accessible and user-friendly while also giving the students a challenging, diverse coding experience.


What sets the BBC micro:bit apart from other education-focused coding devices?


The BBC micro:bit is more than just a piece of hardware, it provides a complete end-to-end solution that includes an extensive online environment featuring a huge range of projects and design options. The device is pitched primarily at students aged 11-15, offering more advanced features and functionalities than the Codebug, which is aimed at younger children, while also providing an opportunity for students to build their confidence before moving on to more advanced single board computers such as Raspberry Pi.


The BBC micro:bit features Bluetooth and wireless technology in addition to edge connectors that make the device fully compatible with Raspberry Pi, allowing students to incorporate both devices into their projects as they progress their learning.


The price point, accessibility and form factor of the BBC micro:bit also make it unique on the market. It’s wearable, highly connectable and can be used with an iPad, smartphone, tablet, a battery source and much more.


The future of the BBC micro:bit project


The long term goal of the project is to provide every 11-year-old child in the UK with a BBC micro:bit device, not just this year but every year in the future. As the device also becomes commercially available, a charitable organisation will be put in place through the BBC in which royalties from every sale will go towards helping to fund the initiative.


A range of accessories are also going to be released over the course of 2017, including a power pack to make the device even more portable and wearable, plus an official BBC micro:bit case and special bundle kits that incorporate a wider variety of technologies, making more complex projects such as robotics and IoT sensing solutions accessible out of the box.


Will the BBC micro:bit be available globally?


At the moment, the BBC micro:bit program is exclusive to the UK, but there are plans to expand into other territories throughout 2016, with the aspiration that by the end of the year it’ll be available for sale globally through our websites.


You can read the full Q&A with Richard Curtin here.