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12/07/16

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Mighty Microbits

written by Calvin Hendryx-Parker on Monday August 22, 2016

About a month ago, I attended EuroPython, where we all received a microbit, which is an embedded piece of hardware that is about half the size of a credit card. I, like the other attendees, was pretty excited about this because there are so many opportunities to customize these.

Open Source Hardware for Kids

Microbits were initially produced by the BBC, who gave them out to elementary students in the UK as a learning device. The students are making robots and building games. The robots are racked with sensors, servos, motors, and all kinds of things that are easy to hook up to the pins along the bottom.

Big Inputs to Play With

At $20 a piece, microbits are cheaper than Raspberry Pis and Arduino. Yet they are packed with great features, such as: an accelerometer, a compass, GPIO pens, Bluetooth LE to connect wirelessly and an antenna built-in to it, two buttons on the back of it, a 5 x 5 LED grid capable of writing characters easily through the included libraries, and 16KB of RAM. They can even be powered by a battery, so they can easily be placed inside of toys or put in a wearable. There are also pins on the bottom for input/output that make it easy to hook an alligator clip or wrap wire around for further customization.

Python-Powered

Microbits are running MicroPython, so we can use Python directly on them, compared to an Arduino, which runs a variant of C. Python typically is easier to learn than C, which means programming microbits is accessible to a large group of people, including kids.

Moreover, the MicroPython API for the microbit has a really easy-to-use API that gives the user great flexibility in accessing the hardware. The accelerometer is so sensitive that you can tilt the board and watch the numbers change in real time on the console by getting a Python REPL (Read-Execute-Process Loop).

My Microbit Plan

Personally, I'd like to build some LED-embedded clothing for my next venture out into social life in Indianapolis. It'd have LEDs that would cycle colors depending on the environment contexts. So if there's lots of action, the lights would change in reaction to the various actions. And since it has an accelerometer built into it, it can know whether it's up, down, left or right or whether it's moving up and down quickly. This sounds like a lot of fun!

Do you have ideas about what you'll do with your microbit, or things you have already done? Let's chat!

 
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Calvin Hendryx-Parker
Chief Technology Officer
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