• ARM, NXP, Nordic Semiconductor provide chips for device
  • BBC plans to distribute 1 million micro:bits in STEM push

A generation of British school children who came of age in the 1980s remember learning simple programming on the BBC Microcomputer, a personal computer distributed by the government broadcaster to instill passion for technology.

Now the BBC is seeking to do the same thing for a new generation of British youngsters with a new, pocket-size device, the BBC micro:bit, which it begins distributing to 11 and 12 year-olds today. The BBC eventually plans to distribute one million micro:bits to U.K. schools to help teach coding and inspire interest in so-called STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The device features a programmable array of red LED lights, two buttons and a built-in motion sensor and a magnetometer, which measures magnetic fields. Children can write code for the device on a website and then transfer it to the micro:bit using either a USB cable or a Bluetooth connection. It will also be able to connect to other computers -- including those simple devices made by Raspberry Pi -- to perform more complex tasks.

The micro:bit is powered by chips designed by U.K. semiconductor engineering firm ARM Plc. and manufactured by Netherlands-based NXP Semiconductors NV as well as Bluetooth chips made by Nordic Semiconductor ASA.

The bluetooth chips will allow the micro:bits to communicate with one another and other bluetooth enabled devices.

That means that in addition to teaching simple coding, students can use the micro:bit to work on projects related to the Internet of Things (IoT), the idea of connecting everything from refrigerators to blast furnaces through the Internet, according to a statement from the three chip-making companies.

ARM Chief Executive Officer Simon Segars was particularly interested in this project because he was turned on to technology by the original BBC Microcomputer, Segars said in the statement.

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