Since the launch of the first Raspberry Pi device back in 2012, microcomputing technology has gone from strength to strength. With the current generation Raspberry Pi 4 boasting enough features to replace a desktop PC, interest in microcomputing, coding and programming has never been higher, which has led to a number of other awesome technologies arriving in the sector.

One of those is the Micro:Bit, an introductory microcontroller board capable of all sorts of cool, coding-related stuff – and a great starter device for kids (and big kids) looking to take their first steps into programming their own digital tech. But what exactly is a Micro:Bit – and what makes it so great?

What is a Micro:Bit?

A Micro:Bit is a microcomputing device best considered as an introduction to microcomputing and a gateway to more complex devices like the Raspberry Pi. Initially launched in 2016 as part of a BBC initiative, every year 7 school children in the country received one to help more kids get into the world of coding. While you can’t get one for free today, you can still buy one very cheaply.

The Micro:Bit is technically a microcontroller rather than a microcomputer, meaning it doesn’t have its own built-in interface like a Raspberry Pi does, but rather acts like a reprogrammable board that can host externally written programs. Even so, it offers a variety of built-in features that enable users to undertake all sorts of engaging and educational projects.

It’s packed with cool features

The original Micro:Bit, the Micro:Bit V1, offers the following built-in features:

  • 25 individually programmable LEDs
  • Two programmable buttons
  • Five I/O connection pins
  • Light and temperature sensors
  • Motion sensors
  • Wireless communication via both radio and Bluetooth
  • USB interface

Each of these features can be externally programmed using editing software like Javascript, Python, and Blocks and individually engineered to be tailored to different projects. The latest Micro:Bit, the V2, offers two notable additions in the form of a built-in speaker and microphone, as well as improved computing power among other new features.

Take on countless projects

For such a little device, the Micro:Bit is certainly loaded with features, and that means you can use it to take on a variety of custom projects that range from simple light displays to driving simulators. Head onto the Micro:Bit website and you’ll find plenty of project ideas to take on, including:

  • Motorbike simulator: believe it or not, a 13-year-old from Turkey managed to develop a motorbike riding simulator based on the Micro:Bit, adding only a USB cable and a handlebar. Users can access an easy-to-follow guide of how to recreate it on Python.
  • Stepometer: if you fancy turning your Micro:Bit into a fitness instrument, you can program it to count your steps and relay that information as commercial tracker apps do.
  • Morse code machine: using short wave radio signals, users can hook up multiple Micro:Bits to create a morse code machine, with one device inputting the dots and dashes and the other linked to a speaker to create the sound.
  • Frustration: fans of the board game Operation will be familiar with something similar to the game of Frustration. Frustration involves trying to guide a ring along a metal wire without allowing the two to touch, otherwise setting off an alarm. You can create your version of this game with your Micro:Bit, which will count the number of attempts it takes you to get it right rather than produce an angry buzz.

For no more than £20, the Micro:Bit is just another example of commercially available microcomputing technology that proves big things come in ever-smaller packages. If you’re someone who is looking to get into coding and more in-depth computing but don’t know where to start, the Micro:Bit is a great introductory tool that will help you get to grips with things in a fun and engaging manner.