BBC Micro Bit vs Raspberry Pi: do we really need both?

BBC Micro Bit vs Raspberry Pi: do we really need both?

Many readers will belong to a generation that was introduced to the brave new world of computers and programming thanks to the BBC Micro, which could be found in schools across the UK in the 1980’s. This autumn they’re hoping to do it again with the Micro Bit, a pocket-sized computer that is being rolled-out as part of their Make It Digital initiative.

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  • Micro Bit 2Credit: YouTube/ARM

  • BBC Micro
  • Micro Bit 1

Obviously, computers are not a novelty for today’s school pupils but as the BBC states, ‘the emphasis has shifted from creation to consumption’, and there is a well-publicised gap in digital skills in the UK. To help counteract this, the Micro Bit has been developed to get secondary school pupils interested in coding, with one million devices being given to year seven pupils across the UK next term.

So is this an attempt by the BBC to compete with the already well-established Raspberry Pi?

At first glance you might think that both devices are offering the same thing (simplified hardware that allows users to explore the basics of coding in an affordable way), but there are some key differences.

The Micro Bit has been pitched as an entry-level device for younger children, which doesn’t run an operating system. The Raspberry Pi currently runs Linux, and will soon run Windows 10, bringing with it all the complexity a modern OS entails.

The Micro Bit has a built-in LED display and is designed to be wearable (although power comes from 2 AAA batteries which makes the device significantly less ‘micro’ when it is away from a mains power source). The Raspberry Pi doesn’t have any built-in display components, so needs to be connected to a monitor or TV to output anything visual.

The other built-in technologies of the Micro Bit also set it apart. It has an on-board motion detector, a compass, and Bluetooth connectivity. This means it can be programmed from any Bluetooth-enabled device so the creativity doesn’t have to be confined to the classroom, and opens a world of possibilities for the way users can interact with the device. The Raspberry Pi requires add on components to be able to offer the same.

These differences mean that there should be space in the market for both (along with others such as Arduino and Kano) – in fact the BBC themselves have said that the Micro Bit is designed to introduce pupils to programming, before moving on to more complex devices such as the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is also reportedly helping to develop learning resources for the Micro Bit.

Both companies seem committed to improving the quality of computing education throughout the UK. Their devices are promoting learning by doing – making computer science a more engaging and creative subject and hopefully inspiring a new generation of technology innovators.

Let’s hope that the lucky 11 year olds who will be receiving their Micro Bits next term will be inspired to go on to careers in computing. In 30 years time they may look back on the Micro Bit as fondly as many of us remember the BBC Micro.

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