The BBC and partners including Microsoft, Samsung and semi-conductor firm Arm have unveiled the BBC Micro:bit, a pocket-sized, codeable computer described by the broadcaster as its “most ambitious education initiative for 30 years”.

Up to 1 million devices will be given to every 11 or 12 year old in year seven or equivalent across the UK, in a bid to help young people develop skills in science, technology and engineering.

BBC director general Tony Hall said: “Just as the BBC Micro introduced millions to personal computers 30 years ago, the BBC micro:bit can help equip a new generation with the digital skills they need to find jobs and help grow the UK economy.

“It’s the unique role of the BBC that allows us to bring together an unprecedented partnership to deliver such an ambitious project.”

The BBC micro:bit connects to other devices, sensors, kits and objects and can be a companion to Arduino, Galileo, Kano, littleBits and Raspberry Pi devices.

Key features include two programmable buttons, an accelerometer, a built-in compass, Bluetooth connectivity and five input and output rings.

Each element of the BBC micro:bit will be programmable via software available later this summer from a dedicated website.

Head of BBC Learning Sinead Rocks added: “It’s our most ambitious education initiative for 30 years. And as the micro:bit is able to connect to everything from mobile phones to plant pots and Raspberry Pis, this could be for the internet-of-things what the BBC Micro was to the British gaming industry.”

Box out Who’s involved?

The micro:bit was first conceived by BBC Learning in 2012, and initially developed together with the BBC’s R&D department.

The BBC is the overall editorial and project lead. Partners include:

  • Arm - providing mbed hardware, software development kits and compiler services
  • Barclays - supporting overall product delivery and outreach activities
  • element14 - sourcing components and managing the manufacturing
  • Freescale - supplying the sensors and USB controllers
  • Lancaster University - creating and writing the micro:bit runtime
  • Microsoft - providing the TouchDevelop web-based programming tools and hosting service as well as teacher-training materials
  • Nordic Semiconductor - supplying the main processor and enabled Bluetooth Smart
  • Samsung – connecting the BBC micro:bit to phones and tablets, and developing the Android app
  • ScienceScope - distributing to schools and developing the iOS app
  • Technology Will Save Us - designing the shape, look and feel of the device
  • The Wellcome Trust – providing learning opportunities for teachers and schools