Playing with the micro:bit

Read Time: 3 minutes

I try to keep an eye out for interesting and accessible electronics projects. The micro:bit is a cool little board. Although there is a plethora of boards and kits out there, it can often be a challenge to find a fun kit that engages in just the right way. I’ve recently been playing with the micro:bit, and it’s an impressive little package. For me, it checks several boxes for being a nice STEM kit for learning.

First, the hardware. It is an all-in-one package equipped with several different components. What is immediately noticeable is the 5x5 LED grid flanked by 2 user buttons. Beyond that it has a couple I/O pins, accelerometer, radio, bluetooth (full details here). The perfect set of components to get started and jump right in, especially when introducing someone to microcontrollers and programming. Second, the software. The usual suspects are available for build micro:bit apps. They provide both Scratch and Python web interfaces, so it makes putting code together pretty simple. Using Scratch, my kids and I had a simple program up and running in a couple minutes. The preset bitmaps and scrolling marquee text do well to give the kids something fun to play with. If you use Chrome you’re supposed to be able to use WebUSB to flash the micro:bit directly from the browser. I couldn’t get it to work, but that’s ok. When the micro:bit is connected to the computer, it is exposed as a usb drive. All I needed to do was download the program’s .hex file to it like a normal drive. This resulted in a reasonably quick reload for the program run.

Taking it past initial playing, the documentation and code samples are nicely put together. It is more than enough to jump-start the learning process. I found the documentation to be pretty easy to sift through, at least for the Python interfaces. Students won’t be short on resources when figuring out how to venture out on their own. It’s nice to see easy to navigate docs. We were able to put several quick projects together, and the kids had a blast.

In the end, this is a fun little board to experiment with. I was able to whip up some nice little prototypes with relatively minimal effort. I look forward to using this on some future learning projects. I think it has a nice balance of functionality and usablity, especially for the kids.