back to article BBC Micro:bit with boosted specs and onboard mic to go on sale from next month

As the nights draw in, Auntie Beeb has given schoolkids and hobbyists a much-needed something to look forward to in the next few weeks – an updated BBC Micro:bit. The latest revision of the open-source, credit-card-sized machine will offer a sizeable performance upgrade against its predecessor with RAM, storage, and processor …

  1. 45RPM Silver badge

    The biggest improvement I’d like to see is an improved accellerometer, with a wider range of accellerations.

    Oh, and it’d be nice to program it in BBC Basic - for old time’s sakes! Although I recognise that this is the most pointless improvement that they could make too.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Yeah. Where do you plug in the keyboard and monitor? "You write the programs on another computer" Well, may as well just use that other computer then.

  2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge
    WTF?

    more capable for AI and ML tasks

    To me that sounds very much like bandwagon-jumping marketing puff. Don't get me wrong, I think this is a cool little thing, and I'm sure that if I was a schoolkid now I'd be having as much fun with it as I had with the class' BBC Model B back in the day, but something like this as an engine for AI/ML has more than the faint whiff of bulls**t about it.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      A whiff of BS like a cloud of teargas and AI/ML is no use whatsoever for the intended user base

      More capable than near zero and still very near zero for AI/ML tasks - is about right.

      Other than that, it's a good starting point for some fundamental computing concepts.

    2. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Not sure I agree - the examples given are all relevant ML/AI tasks, that can be performed in situ with no offload.

      You dont always need a monster cluster to run ML. For education purposes creating a link between the basic stuff in the bit and the great slab of shiny that them/their parents are using for TouchID or FaceID isn't a bad thing.

    3. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      If you want to do something like MENACE (Machine Educable Noughts And Crosses Engine), I'm sure it would be capable of that, and it is simple enough that you can understand what is going on, and how machine learning works.

      1. Kane Silver badge
        Terminator

        Shall we play a game?

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Coat

          Yes, I'm starting from the top corner

          x | |

          - - -

          | |

          - - -

          | |

          1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

            Thought the middle was always the best place to start...

            x | |

            - - -

            | o |

            - - -

            | |

            1. katrinab Silver badge

              It isn't. Against a player of moderate ability, the corner is the best place to start.

              x| |

              - - -

              |o|

              | |x

              1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

                Hmmm [realises his tactical error] I see your point... I shoulda gone for the diagonally opposite corner. Now there's no move I can make which won't ultimately leave you two possible winning moves, and I can only counter one of them.

                Often whomever goes first wins. I suppose I could hope for a typo. No? Guess I'm toast.

                [Resigns to inevitable defeat] Won in the first move. Well played.

                x| |

                - - -

                |o|

                - - -

                o| |x

                1. katrinab Silver badge
                  Boffin

                  x| |x

                  |o|

                  o| |x

                  I have a fork on top row and right column, so win.

                  But actually, your first move was correct, and you can defend my second move.

                  Go for an edge square, for example

                  X|o|

                  |o|

                  | |x

                  Then I have to defend your two-in-a-row

                  x|o|

                  |o|

                  |x|x

                  Then you have to defend my two-in-a-row

                  x|o|

                  |o|

                  o|x|x

                  Then I have to defend your two-in-a-row

                  x|o|x

                  |o|

                  o|x|x

                  And you defend my two-in-a-row

                  x|o|x

                  |o|o

                  o|x|x

                  And I have the last move with only one option left, so a draw

                  With the corner strategy, there is only one correct way to defend it, which is why I go for it.

                  If you go for edge as your first move

                  x|o|

                  | |

                  | |

                  I go for bottom left corner, You defend it, I go for the other corner, and get a fork (two possible winning lines)

                  If you go for adjacent corner as your first move

                  x| |o

                  | |

                  | |

                  I pick one of the other corners to get a fork

                  If you go for opposite corner as your first move

                  x| |

                  | |

                  | |o

                  I pick one of the other corners for the same possibility of a fork.

                  I worked this out for myself while in primary school. Lots of other people have worked this out too.

                  1. Kane Silver badge
                    Mushroom

                    I was quite prepared to play a game Global Thermonuclear War.

    4. Rich 2

      AI

      You beat me to it.

      With current technology, implementing any form of “artificial intelligence” (I’m spelling it out because I think some people seem to forget what AI actually means) - IF it’s possible at all - will require either a very large and clever neural network, and/or MASSIVE amounts of conventional computing power.

      Cool though these little computers are, AI? I think not. And that goes for all other current AI claims.

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        Re: AI

        The WHOOSH is the the sound of the point going over your head.

        The purpose isnt to educate the kids about what an IT professional would define AI/ML as (gawd knows there are enough people in the industry dedicated to obscuring the definition for sales purposes) the point to educate kids on real life examples of what the "man in the street" would call AI/ML.

        Its a bit like my Physics Teacher at A level - who started the year with the statement - "Everything we taught you at GCSE was wrong". He then went on to say "Everything I'm about to teach you is wrong. Its just a better class of wrong." There was some hyperbole in those statements but also a big chunk of truth.

        1. Rich 2

          Re: AI

          So deliberately deceiving the kids about what AI is is helping them attain a good understanding of what the current state of computer technology can and cannot achieve?

          That will be really useful when they leave school and in their first job interview they can talk knowledgeably at length about their AI achievements. When in really it was an “Input name. Print “Hello “ name” program.

          That’s even more bollox than “computer programming” classes that just teach the poor buggers how ton use MS Word.

          This kind of dumbing-down is as unhelpful as it gets (and your comparison with what your physics teacher said is not valid - I get what he was saying but this is not the same)

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: AI

            Imagine a circuit with a battery, a resistor and a lamp. It's not a serious piece of electronics, but it is a working demonstration of a circuit.

            A couple of logic gates can demonstrate digital electronic concepts but isn't a computer.

            So a network with a 2 node input layer, an output layer and a 3 node hidden layer with a bias on the links can demonstrate a NN.

            It doesn't have to be an image classifying task.

      2. Captain Boing

        Re: AI

        it the BBC - what do yu expect. they always love a buzz-word and still think the internet is cool.

        a few years back everything was a cure for cancer or came from Mars.

        Like grandpa trying break-dance to impress the kids... "I still got it"... no Gramps... you haven't and probably never did.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: AI

          If Gramps can move like that at his age, then he's still got something to be in awe of...

  3. knarf

    Why BBC ?

    This is a vanity project, they should have backed Raspberry Pi instead

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Why BBC ?

      I only partially agree. I think they serve different use cases and different age groups. The beeb should back both.

      If you think of the bit as a gateway drug to Pi-land it makes a lot of sense.

    2. _LC_ Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Why BBC ?

      This is a different class entirely. Where the Raspberry Pi runs a full-fletched operating system, this one remains transparent. You can have it start at address XY and write everything is has to do from there yourself.

    3. Jason Bloomberg

      Re: Why BBC ?

      This is a vanity project, they should have backed Raspberry Pi instead

      It's a project born of the government's Make It Digital pursuit a couple of years ago. If the BBC had backed a commercial product like the Raspberry Pi rather than commissioning its own all hell would have broken out with people accusing the BBC of providing an unfair commercial advantage.

    4. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Why BBC ?

      The BBC spun it out into a separate foundation in 2016, as far as I can tell they only had the project for about a year after launch.

      I guess in these times a re-creation of the decade-long Computer Literacy Project is asking for a bit much (with a computer specification, programmes to teach the public, teaching materials, etc...). Nowadays it seems putting up a patronising poster is good enough.

      1. Jason Bloomberg

        Re: Why BBC ?

        The BBC spun it out into a separate foundation in 2016, as far as I can tell they only had the project for about a year after launch.

        After all the problems and delays involved, the issue of CodeBug, it wouldn't surprise me if the BBC weren't glad to see the back of it. BBC Learning are still providing input into the foundation and the product remains marketed under "BBC" branding.

  4. Outski Silver badge

    One question

    Will it run Elite?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One question

      crysis 3?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One question

      @"Will it run Elite?" yes it is possible with additional i/o

      As to BBC BASIC, there has been a full BBC BASIC 5 interpreter called brandy for years that even includes an assembler as per the original.

      As to the addition of a microphone by default this to me carries the reeks of amazon/google style listening in where instead they could have added a different/improved sensor. For me an echobit is something that comes with too many issues

      1. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: One question

        Such as learning you don't need to rely on your data being sent to 3rd parties in order to do home automation?

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: One question

        As to the addition of a microphone by default this to me carries the reeks of amazon/google style listening in

        Did you actually READ the article?

        "the microphone is a Knowles MEMS sensor, which is accompanied by an LED light. This, the BBC said, is to help facilitate classroom discussions around privacy."

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One question

      I suspect that the answer is YES, since Elite did run on the following:

      BBC model B has 32KiB of RAM and was clocked at 2MHz.

      BBC model B+ which has 64KiB of RAM and was clocked at 2MHz.

      BBC Master 128 which has 128KiB of RAM and was clocked at 2MHz.

      So if someone ported the ~10,000 lines of 6502 assembler to ARM ( https://github.com/kieranhj/elite-beebasm ), I expect that it could function with a CPU clocked at 16MHz and 128KB of RAM.

      The real problem is how would you get it to display the graphics, you could probably use a bunch of GPIO pins for the controls. Maybe you could bit bang that out over the 32 MHz High-speed SPI bus to a low resolution display at a slow framerate.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One question

        should be 64MHz, not 16MHz - DOH!

      2. Outski Silver badge

        Re: One question

        It also ran on the Acorn Electron, which had 32kB and ran at 2MHz (I eventually made it up to Competent)

        1. druck Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: One question

          It ran on the Electron but in 1bpp without the fancy split screen that allowed the lower half to be in colour on the Beeb. Although the Electron's 6502 was clocked at 2MHz like the beeb, it couldn't access RAM at the same time as the screen DMA, so was locked out for 40us out of 64us in high res modes, which made it effectively less than half as fast.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: One question

            I enjoyed this in the article:

            "Harking back to 1981, the Acorn Computers-manufactured Micro introduced the nation to programming, thanks to its built-in BASIC interpreter and reasonably affordable price."

            Bollocks was it reasonably affordable, OK so it was cheaper than a Commodore PET, but it was about a months pay for a typical job. ZX81 was an affordable price. Kids with a Model B at home had either wealthy parents or family debt.

            1. David 132 Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: One question

              Thank you for spotting the same point that struck me.

              The BBC Micro line was never "reasonably affordable" for the average family, not even vaguely so. The years have fuzzed my memory, but I do seem to recall that pricing circa 1984/5 for the various home computing machines was something like

              ZX81: £79

              Spectrum 48K: £129.99

              Spectrum+ 48K: £179.99 (I remember this one very clearly, cos I got one for Christmas, after much pestering)

              Commodore 64: £300?

              BBC B: £399

              And that's back when £399 was a lot of money (the equivalent of almost £1300 today, according to the BoE Inflation Calculator)

              IOW it was well out of the reach of most families. But absolutely ubiquitous in schools, who must have been subsidised by the government to buy them. Certainly my school had a lab with about 15 Bs and, later, a couple of Master 128s. Mr Higgins, Room 1, right-hand side, end of the long corridor on the right just before the canteen. Ah, school days. Jumpers for goalposts, etc etc.

              1. werdsmith Silver badge

                Re: One question

                This is why we can’t compare Raspberry Pi to BBC computer, because Pi genuinely is affordable.

                Our school had a single TRS-80, locked in a special room like some kind of inner sanctum, with occasional access for elite sixth form nurds.

                1. The_H

                  Re: One question

                  Luxury.

                  We had a Teletype 33 in the maths storeroom, connected to a proper phone with a dial via a modem the size of two shoeboxes, which was linked for one hour a week (4.30 - 5.30pm every Tuesday) to the Humberside County Council mainframe in Beverley. I've still got my O-level punched paper tape.

                  Nine times out of ten trying to dial up all we got was "HCC Computernet will not start". How we ever passed was a miracle.

                  Just before I left (1982) they ended up with one Commodore Pet 8032 and they started teaching kids to program in CESIL - anyone remember that?

                  1. Captain Boing
                    FAIL

                    Re: One question

                    Right.

                    Our school didn't have any computer (not counting the big thing like a vcr unde a telly on wheels they used to wheel out to demo brownian motion in physics)

                    We had to put punched cards in a grey holder with loads of rubber strips and poke out the bits of paper with half a clothes peg with a tack in the end.

                    Then when we had done that, they all used to get sent off to Brunel Uni to run and we would get the results back a week later. I remember one kid (Robert Church - where did that come from?) did a complete calendar for any year!!! I breathlessy waitied for mine...

                    SYNTAX ERROR IN 10 "PRIVT"

                    f**k it!.

    4. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: One question

      Planetoid?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One question

        Magic Mushrooms with the level editor

  5. xanda
    Trollface

    "As the nights draw in, Auntie Beeb has given ... a much-needed something to look forward to..."

    It's been a while since anyone said something like this, no?!!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sadly

    Shame you can't connect it to a monitor and run -

    10 PRINT "TITS "

    20 GOTO 10

    At the end of class when you leave.

    1. Baudwalk

      Re: Sadly

      But you can have it scroll BOOBS across the 5x5 LEDS.

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Sadly

        ...or have it scroll 58008, and just turn it upside down.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BBC Computer 32K

    Acorn DFS

    Basic

    > P."Hello world"

    Hello world

    >

  8. Dinsdale247

    WTF is wrong with you british people?

    Seriously, It's like the UK took 1984 and internalised it and decided it would be great to try it out for real. And I suppose the far left leaning, genital mutilation loving BBC is just doing this for shits and giggles? You are literally handing children spying devices provided by the most politicised zealots of racism that your country has seen in 100 years. This will not end well for you.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Steve Copley
      Facepalm

      Re: WTF is wrong with you british people?

      LOLWOT?!

    3. Little Mouse Silver badge

      Re: WTF is wrong with you british people?

      It's almost as if there's a secret plan to educate children & democratise technology.

      Quick, get the pitchforks!

      1. Kane Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: WTF is wrong with you british people?

        "It's almost as if there's a secret plan to educate children & democratise technology.

        Quick, get the pitchforks!"

        Are they government approved pitchforks, comrade?

    4. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: WTF is wrong with you british people?

      What a nutter or parody surely. It’s hard to tell.

      Micro:Bit has special secret internal power source and secret connectivity to the dark web so sound can be transported to the Illuminati.

      Or it‘s just nothing more that some toys have had for decades.

    5. Kane Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: WTF is wrong with you british people?

      "Seriously, It's like the UK took 1984 and internalised it and decided it would be great to try it out for real. And I suppose the far left leaning, genital mutilation loving BBC is just doing this for shits and giggles? You are literally handing children spying devices provided by the most politicised zealots of racism that your country has seen in 100 years. This will not end well for you."

      I'm not sure how to respond to the frothing other than to quote Steve:

      LOLWOT?!

    6. Captain Boing

      Re: WTF is wrong with you british people?

      how's your Alexa?

      1. Montreal Sean

        Re: WTF is wrong with you british people?

        "how's your Alexa?"

        Bound and gagged. Just like Cortana, Siri and Google.

        At least I think they are...

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: WTF is wrong with you british people?

      Apparently Microbits have bluetooth but not wifi, so the challenge is remotely infect one via bluetooth and bug the mic, without lighting it up. I'm sure there's a department of some semi-secret security organisation somewhere that already has code to compromise every known computer chipset, but wont admit to it.It wouldn't suprise me if the AI bit is also for their benefit.

      Our totalitarian toptoe-ing overlords have just decided to allow themselves to commit crimes, so now there's nothing to stop them from doing what they were already doing.

    8. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: WTF is wrong with you british people?

      "This will not end well for you."

      Or maybe, just maybe, it will be sufficient to demonstrate that understanding simple spoken commands does not require recording everything and pushing it to the mothership for analysis (interpretation, and storage).

      You know, like some feature phones used to before mobile internet was a thing.

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