Posted on August 24, 2016 by staff

ARM: micro:bit kids will redefine what is impossible


ARM engineers believe schoolchildren armed with micro:bits will “redefine what is impossible” after learning to code.

The smaller-than-a-credit-card device has been rolled out to year seven pupils across the country in a pioneering project which has seen the BBC team up with 29 industry partners, including the Cambridge-headquartered giant.

One million children will receive their own device this year, with many schools already getting to grips with the new addition to the curriculum as computing education gets an overhaul.

Long-term it is hoped the initiative will inspire a new generation of coders and fill anticipated skills gaps.

The micro:bit was created using ARM’s mbed hardware and software development kits and compiler services and builds on its work on the original 1981 BBC Micro.

Jonny Austin, staff software engineer and ARM’s technical lead on the micro:bit project, says the scheme was in response to a digital report two years ago that found more than one million UK businesses did not have the skills to be successful in today’s digital world.

“We really wanted to be a game changer,” says Austin.

“Alongside our partners we wanted to recreate the buzz of the BBC Micro which was a product we all used as engineers and has shaped a lot of the programming skills we see coming into the industry today.”

The aim is to demystify technology and allow pupils to feel an ownership for the product so that they understand what’s going on rather than the technology driving them, he adds.

The ease of use will see children progressing quickly from the simple drag and drop environment to looking at how they can do more with the device through programming within a few days.

And targeting children from age 11 means this is entirely possible as they bring with them no pre-conceived ideas, says Bee Hayes-Thakore, director of marketing products, Internet of Things, at ARM.

“We’ve given the most cutting edge technology to kids who really don’t have any constraints,” she says.

“As engineers we’re constrained by the types of things we know and the inertia we build in; we wanted to give it to kids who don’t even know what is impossible and they would redefine that.

“Soon enough we will see children becoming more familiar with coding and connecting the devices they already have and doing richer things because they are not shy to expand their capabilities.”

The rollout to schools is just the start and work is continuing to ensure the micro:bit remains sustainable and educational.

At ARM this means ensuring every school receives their micro:bits before giving them to every ARM employee, who will be encouraged to use them to work with schools and children’s clubs.

Further ahead, Hayes-Thakore believes every organisation in the future will be a “connected business”, meaning these types of skills will be essential to ensure organisations can grow.

Austin believes the scheme will capture a broader range of people coming into coding roles, as diversity is currently lacking, and there are currently efforts to encourage more girls into STEM subjects.

For now ARM’s Austin adds: “We have a big community around the micro:bit that is already starting to evolve and there is an excitement with commercial developers about how they can use it, so I think we will see it taking on a life of its own among both hobbyists and makers.”

Arm Holdings, founded in 1990, designs the microchips used in the majority of smartphones, including the market-leading Apple and Samsung devices.

It was announced last month that Japanese giant Softbank will buy the firm at a 43 per cent premium on its value in a bid to “capture the very significant opportunities provided by the Internet of Things” .

That purchase is expected to receive initial approval from Softbank shareholders this week.