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Open source Micro:bit SBC now available for pre-order

May 31, 2016 — by Rick Lehrbaum — 1,667 views

The BBC Micro:bit SBC, which has already been given out free to a million U.K. school kids, is now available for pre-order from several online resellers. reported this morning that the tiny Micro:bit microcontroller board, which “is already being delivered, free, to one million Year 7 children in schools across the UK,” is now “going on sale to the general public.”

But there’s a catch: U.K distributor Premier Farnell, which has been licensed by the BBC to manufacture the Micro:bit boards (and which also makes SBCs for Raspberry Pi Foundation), currently is only accepting orders for “Micro:bit Go” kits, and only in quantities of 90 or more, priced at £12.29 per kit.

BBC Micro:bit Go kit (left) and its contents
(click images to enlarge)

The Micro:bit Go kit includes the SBC along with a USB cable, battery holder, a pair of AAA batteries, and a Quick Start Guide. For single unit orders, Premier Farnell points to a handful of online U.K. resellers, including Kitronik, Pimoroni, Sciencescope, Technology Will Save Us, and The Pi Hut. Those sources show pricing for the Micro:bit board by itself of around £13 (about $19), excluding VAT.

Micro:bit technical bits

In contrast to that other well known made-in-U.K. hacker SBC, the Raspberry Pi, the 50 x 40mm Micro:bit is more like an Arduino, being built around a microcontroller (MCU) rather than a higher level ARM, MIPS, or x86 application processor. Consequently, the Micro:bit can’t run full-fledged OSes such as Linux, and instead runs ARM’s Mbed OS for MCUs.

Specifically, the Micro:bit is equipped with a Nordic Semiconductor nRF51822 Cortex-M0 MCU with a built-in 2.4GHz Bluetooth Smart transceiver running ARM Mbed, as well as a 48MHz NXP Kinetis KL26Z Cortex-M0+ MCU. These are accompanied by 16KB of RAM and 256KB of flash memory.

Micro:bit detail view (left) and Nordic nRF51822 MCU block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

The tiny board also integrates accelerometer and compass sensors, 25 programmable LEDs, two programmable buttons, and a micro-USB OTG port. For real-world I/O there are 5x D-to-A outputs, 3x PWMs, and up to 17x GPIOs, plus serial, SPI, and I2C interfaces, all of which are expressed over a 20-finger edge connector and some conductive rings to which alligator clips can be connected. The board obtains its DC power from an external battery pack with two AAAs, or through its micro-USB port.

The Micro:bit is programmed from a Bluetooth- or USB-connected desktop PC, tablet, or smartphone, or from a more advanced hacker board such as the Raspberry Pi. Available development tools include Python, JavaScript, and other higher-end development environments.

Further information

More details regarding the BBC Micro:bit SBC are available at the Micro:bit website. The boards can be ordered in volume from Element Farnell’s BBC Micro:bit product page. Links to various Micro:bit resellers can be found here. More technical details may be found in our earlier detailed Micro:bit coverage.

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