ARM and the BBC collaborate on a new initiative

About thirty years ago, Acorn partnered with the BBC with the purpose of putting at least one computer into every school in the UK. The goal was to get children interested in writing code and it has been probably the single biggest contributor to the growth and success of the computer and electronics industries in the UK. Many of the engineers in ARM, over a certain age (ahem), will have been exposed to computing for the first time through that program.

Today a similar initiative was launched by the BBC in London to get a new generation into coding with their “Make it Digital” campaign. There are a number of elements to the initiative but the one that ARM is most excited about is the Microbit project that will build on the success of the original “BBC Micro” idea and take it even further. In early September, every child in year 7 at a school in the UK will be given a small ARM based development board that they can program using a choice of software editor. The teachers will be trained and there will be a full suite of training materials and tutorials for every child, at any level of ability, to program their first Internet of Things (IoT) device.

The board has BLE on board so that it can be connected to a phone or tablet and will support Firmware Over The Air (FOTA) so that it can be reprogrammed using a mobile device and will not be limited to being connected to a PC by USB cable. There is a 5x5 LED array on the board that can be programmed to scroll text or display simple images along side other soon to be announced capabilities so that kids can have fun experimenting. Both Freescale and Nordic Semiconductor are working with us on making this initial 1 million devices a reality.

ARM is particularly proud of this device as it is being built on top of ARM’s mbed platform to ensure flexibility for future generations of the device without breaking compatibility. We would like to see this become a yearly event in the UK so that every child that moves up to secondary school gets a Microbit of their own. Clearly, this programme should also be pushed out beyond the UK and we are investigating how best to do that. A crucial element to enable further proliferation is that all the pieces of the Microbit project will be open sourced and freely available for others to use and replicate.

More information can be found here: and the BBC announcement is here:BBC - Make It Digital - About Make It Digital

I would like to recognise a few people in ARM that have been instrumental in getting us to this point: Stephen Pattison for ensuring that we were involved from a very early stage: kflautner and Simon Ford from the IoTBU for providing the resources and support to ensure mbed was the platform to build on: Jonathan Austin and Chris Styles for all their contributions to the hardware and software designs. Just this morning, Jenny Duvalier stood on stage with the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, and voiced ARM’s commitment to the Make It Digital initiative and the impact it will have on the talent pool of the future.

We think it is crucial that we inspire a new generation of engineers to get interested in computing and technology. The continued success of UK plc as a leader in ICT depends on how successful we are in encouraging boys and girls to embrace technology and choose to build a career for themselves in our industry. This will make a massive contribution to that endeavour and everyone at ARM should be proud to be part of it