back to article BBC Micro:bit delayed by power supply SNAFU

The BBC has admitted that the Micro:bit, the computer it plans to give to up to one million children, is not going to arrive on time due to quality problems. The Micro:bit was announced in March as a "get kids coding" initiative. Delivery was anticipated to occur in September, so that every 11 or 12 year-old in the UK could be …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Battery power???

    The post is required, and must contain letters.

  2. werdsmith Silver badge

    Going by the pictures in the article, seems that the power gets on the board via the edge connector or a big through-plated hole? (or the battery connector I suppose)

    Which would require the kids to get hold of a bench power supply or adapt a charger etc with all the risk of getting that wrong.

    So would the change be the addition of a micro-usb port so the thing could be powered by a phone charger / PC USB port and USB cable?

    Seems a stinking big oversight it that's the case.

    1. Spoonguard
      Flame

      not shown: microusb smd socket along the top

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Ahh yes. On second look I realise it's an unpopulated PCB in the photos.

        Doh!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    Missed deadlines....

    ....quality control issues......

    So it is just like the 80's computing revolution all over again!

    1. theblackhand

      Re: Missed deadlines....

      Maybe they could meet the deadline by sending out the unassembled components with a note about not using glue for assembly?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Missed deadlines....

        "[...] with a note about not using glue for assembly?"

        A 1961 transistor radio kit solved that problem by having no circuit board. The components' wires had to be joined together with supplied 8BA nuts and bolts. The only soldering iron in most houses was a large copper bit on an iron rod with a wooden handle - which was heated in the coal fire or on the gas stove,

        1. Zimmer
          Happy

          Re: Missed deadlines....

          We must have been posh.. had to heat the soldering iron on an electric hob!

        2. Mike Shepherd

          Re: Missed deadlines....

          Probably you're thinking of the Philips 'Radio Engineer' kit (1964).

        3. Hugh Barnard

          Re: Missed deadlines....

          Yes I was 11 or 12 and had a 'matchbox' size thing like that wth discrete PNP [red spot] transistors. Only problem was, the nut and bolt 'connection' wasn't really great once there were several components sitting on one bolt.

    2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Re: Missed deadlines....

      I think they're taking the retro vibe a little too far...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why new hardware?

    The money would've better been spent on getting a decent Python IDE running on a cheap tablet.

    1. Crisp Silver badge

      Re: Why new hardware?

      Have you tried doing any kind of non-trivial development work on a tablet? I wouldn't wish that experience on anybody!

      1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

        Re: Why new hardware?

        Which speaks volumes about the amount of resources thrown at development today and not in a good way at all.

    2. Anonymous Coward 101

      Re: Why new hardware?

      Because mumble mumble halcyon days 80s British computers blah blah Raspberry Pi.

    3. Crisp Silver badge

      Re: Why new hardware?

      What we need is a programming language based on txtspeak...

      Hang on... That's CJam isn't it?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why new hardware?

      A sizeable proportion of kids will already have tablets, and these are perfectly powerful enough for coding.

      jruby, for instance, runs on Android ("Ruboto")

      Or given that one of these boards probably needs a PC to act as its mothership, you might as well program on the PC itself.

      There are also a bunch of environments which run inside a browser using Javascript - including a full emulator which boots Linux. http://bellard.org/jslinux/

      1. Matt Hawkins

        Re: Why new hardware?

        So how do you add leds, motors, buzzers etc to a tablet? Without that ability coding on a tablet is an awful experience for kids.

        1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

          Re: Why new hardware?

          > So how do you add leds, motors, buzzers etc to a tablet? Without that ability coding on a tablet is an awful experience for kids.

          By plugging an Arduino* to the USB or Bluetooth and using QPython + Firmata. This caters for driving leds, motors, and reading sensors (including analogue) directly from the Python code running on the tablet (or phone or PC or Pi)

          https://code.google.com/p/cellbots/wiki/Overview

          https://shokai.github.io/ArduinoFirmata-Android/

          * Arduino Nano are about $US5 on eBay.

        2. JosephEngels

          Re: Why new hardware?

          Why do you need LED's when you have a screen? Why do you need buzzers when you have a speaker?

          Honestly, the BBC Micro was a great idea because at the time there were close to zero available compute devices in schools and it opened up computing to a generation. These days we are inundated with compute devices .. phones, laptops, tablets, desktops, watches ... there is NO SHORTAGE of hardware ... in fact, we have too much.

          Prediction: 70% of these devices will never be even powered up and will be thrown across the playground as some sort of high-tech skipping stone. another 20% will be powered up but junked once they reallise they wont run xbox games .. a few will get a basic bit of code written .. and less than 1% will end up actually used.

    5. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: Why new hardware?

      > The money would've better been spent on getting a decent Python IDE running on a cheap tablet.

      Android QPython

  5. James 51 Silver badge

    I am sure there is a good reason to not use a Pi and take advantage of all the work done on it. I'd like to hear it though.

    1. Robert Grant

      @James 51

      I am sure there is a good reason to not use a Pi and take advantage of all the work done on it. I'd like to hear it though.

      BBC now employs people more likely to understand phrases such as "BBC Micro brand awareness" and "stay relevant at all costs" than, say, "circuit board" or "variable".

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      I certainly hope you're not suggesting the actual production cost of that thing is equal (or more) to that of an RPi. Also, hardware hacking was never what the Pi was invented for, regardless of who might say what - it's merely a (poor) peripheral feature...

    3. Matt Hawkins

      As a huge Pi fan who will defend it to the death against all comers ... the micro:bit will be better for younger kids as it is easier to get up and running. Crocodile clips and banana plugs are a lot easier to deal with than 2.54mm headers, easier to run off batteries etc

      I see the micro:bit as something you use for a year or two before moving onto the Pi.

    4. Sykobee

      £5 board design for case-less operation versus £25 board + case + microSD + all the other stuff.

      One is affordable for the scale of deployment envisioned, the other isn't.

      This is assuming that the school already has a suitable computer room of course. This is just an IoT thing - use a computer to program a Thing to control something physical.

  6. Neil Alexander

    One million clocks to be delayed. Andrew Parker can sleep easy for another night.

  7. Your alien overlord - fear me

    What I propose is the license fee in dramatically increased so they can pay someone's OTT fees to sort this out. Pronto.

  8. Andrew Oakley

    Codebug works, shipped, in stock

    This delay/SNAFU is particularly dissapointing given that the device that was very close to the original design, the Codebug ( www.codebug.co.uk ), blew past its Kickstarter in April, shipped in July and I have three of them, all fully working, all using the same Scratch-like web-to-USB-download IDE, and being used this week by my three children. In stock now at Farnell for twelve quid fiddypee.

    Well, I *think* I have three of them. My kids love them so much they kind of grabbed them and they disappeared. One was definitely running some LEDs for a Lego model at the weekend. Two were last seen pinned to clothing for the twins' birthday as fancy age badges. I'll report back when the inevitable washing machine API occurs.

    Why on earth the BBC decided to go with the Micro Bit instead of the Micro Bug, I just don't know. Adding the sensors, removing the onboard CR2032 battery and adding Bluetooth (well known to be the curse of death for many projects) very late in the day seems to have fouled things up. Perhaps the coding lesson that Auntie Beeb are trying to teach our children is the old Unix addage "do only one thing and do it well". If so, they've spectacularly succeeded in providing a mistake to learn from.

    1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: Codebug works, shipped, in stock

      > removing the onboard CR2032 battery

      That was the main issue (AFAIK). Small batteries and small children are not a good mix.

      http://www.safekids.org/safetytips/field_risks/batteries

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Codebug works, shipped, in stock

        "Small batteries and small children"

        Target age range is 11ish so the kids can't be that small. It doesn't preclude being stupid but natural selection is a wonderful thing.

        1. The First Dave

          Re: Codebug works, shipped, in stock

          11 year old kids often have younger siblings ...

          1. TAJW

            Re: Codebug works, shipped, in stock

            Yes, they might have smaller siblings, so the kit should be delayed while a rasp and sandpaper are included so all the sharp edges in the world can be filed off before use. Oh, and we need to cut all the trees down because one of the little nippers might try to climb one. Oh, but then you have to use a chain saw! And the environmentalists!!! <initiate hand wringing session><infinite loop>

            Sorry, kids, this will never be delivered....you might hurt yourselves.

    2. Hugh Barnard

      Re: Codebug works, shipped, in stock

      Yes, this whole thing seems to be another BBC not-invented-here or 'we've got tons of public money'. I would have preferred to see them get behind the Pi, OK it's harder, but less fragmentation in the knowledge and teaching.

      That said, I took a Pi into my Code Club, they'd never seen one and they were able to use [use being play Minecraft, mainly] in about 30 seconds. Digital natives are actually a breed.

  9. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    So far...

    The BBCs digital initiative of stuff has been a bit crap. First this delay, and then their awful "Gamechangers" film. The only "game changing" thing about that was that it was a clear statement of how to make a shit film. So perhaps it was educational in that aspect.

    I have enjoyed watching the cache of 1980s Micro live programmes trawled up from the archives on iPlayer though.

    1. Andrew Oakley

      Re: So far...

      Gamechangers was also an expletive-laiden post-watershed drama that no children would be allowed to watch, about a game that had a mature rating that no children had been allowed to buy, with a plotline that focussed on hidden pornography.

      Quite how that managed to get related to the "teach kids to code week", I just can't imagine. I mean, Daniel Radcliffe must have cost a lot of money, the programme must have been comissioned by some fairly senior management staff at the BBC, can they really be that out-of-touch that they don't understand watersheds and age ratings?

      Having said all that, it was good... for a TV movie. Worth a watch, especially as it's free on iPlayer. *If* you're old enough.

      1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

        Re: So far...

        Having said all that, it was good... for a TV movie. Worth a watch, especially as it's free on iPlayer. *If* you're old enough.

        Ahh old enough to realise you always press the 'I am aged 16 or over' button :-)

      2. Matt Hawkins

        Re: So far...

        I enjoyed it. But I agree. When GTA was first mentioned as part of the make it digital campaign I couldn't imagine how it was going to be related to teaching kids to code. I was right.

        GTA is one of the best games I've ever played. Completely insane to use it as part of the campaign.

  10. Joe Harrison Silver badge

    Why?

    My kids and all their friends already have about six computers each

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely it is part of the learning experience to "cop a jolt". Or maybe I'm just showing my age ...

    1. John Bailey

      "Surely it is part of the learning experience to "cop a jolt". Or maybe I'm just showing my age ..."

      Well.. Given the voltages this thing works on.. I's say unless they really really screwed up. Copping a jolt will only be possible if they stick it in their mouths while switched on.

  12. NIck Hunn

    Why not a Pi

    I think Andrew's answer says it all - they're small enough to sew onto clothing, bluetak onto lego, glue to stuff, etc, which makes them a lot more appealing as they then become a project about coding for something you already own. Much as I love the Pi, I suspect the vast bulk of users are of the age that grew up with BBC micros, or even Sinclair calculators. Or in my case log tables and slide rules. And the Pi is more for new projects, rather than adding functionality to something you already use.

    I do think that adding Bluetooth to the device is a valid reason for not going with the Codebug, as it ticks the other box of letting kids connect it to their phones.

    It's a shame about the power supply delay, but they're not the first to hit that problem. I've seen too many other product launches hit the same problem. The part everyone thinks is easy turns out not to be. Although numerous shocks with stuff I built as a kid never seemed to do me much harm. It did teach me that not insulating mains terminals is a bad idea.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Why not a Pi

      Why not this and a Pi? This is the cheapest way to add accelerometers to a Pi (assuming its as cheap as I've heard). I was hoping to steal my daughters when she got it to make a solar powered robotic weeder for my veggie patch.

      1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        Re: Why not a Pi

        To turn a Pi into a Micro:Bit you need to add LEDs, buttons, Bluetooth, compass and accelerometer.

        To do that you need a HAT or other add-on board. And that's really what the Micro:Bit is but self-contained, platform ambivalent, and it doesn't have the BBC supporting only a specific commercial venture which is what the Pi actually is no matter that the Foundations has charitable goals.

        One could equally argue "why not an Arduino shield?". Arduino base units are far cheaper than a PI.

        1. James Hughes 1

          Re: Why not a Pi

          With regard to the comment about the Pi being a specifically commercial venture.

          This is not the case. The Raspberry Pi foundation is a charity, which fully owns the Raspberry Pi trading subsidiary which does the tech development. All profits go to the charity. The charity itself spends a HUGE amount of money of educational outreach, as it's says in it charity statement.They also fund development of relevant open source software (e.g. Scratch, Sonic Pi etc). In fact the charity is overwhelmed by demand for educational help and is expanding all the time to try and meet that demand. As an example of outreach, they fund a completely free training course for teachers, held once a month, which almost everyone who has been on it says is the best teacher training they have EVER been on.

          So before making 'accusations', please look at the facts.

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Why not a Pi

          So why not an arduino. There is even a mini-arduino made specifically to sew onto clothing.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Why not a Pi

            I read an an interview with the guy who dreamed this up and he said they looked at other devices and he said to himself "I could do this" (tellingly AFTER the Raspberry PI foundation had been to see the BEEB to see about resurrecting the BBC Micro ), so effectively a nice project for him to fiddle with using license fee money, could easily have just done something around the Pi, Beaglebone or Arduino especially some of the wearable Arduinos which work out very cheap.

            Also I think there's a limited expectations thing going on here saying other platforms are "too complicated" so ohh look shiny LED's but we don't want to scare you with anything like a realistic device that has the flexibility to grow with your experience.

            1. Sykobee

              Re: Why not a Pi

              > he said to himself "I could do this"

              Interestingly, this line of thought is why we have the ARM processor today:

              Acorn people went to Western Design Centre to talk about licensing their advanced 6502 compatible processors, realised the company was a couple of people doing the designs themselves in a garage, went away and did the same thing themselves from scratch.

  13. Jim 59

    Wouldn't it be simpler to just give the kids in question an actual BBC Micro. I know which I'd prefer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I suspect the micro:bit will be able to emulate the BBC micro (just).

      1. Sykobee

        The micro-bit is based around a 16MHz ARM Cortex M0 core (+256KB flash memory, and 16KB SRAM).

        I don't think it can emulate the original BBC Micro (not even the Model A) entirely, but it should be able to emulate the 2MHz 6502 just about.

        Interestingly, the micro:bit's USB interface chip has a 48MHz ARM Cortex M0+ core driving the USB stack...

        I wonder if we'll see interesting projects using, e.g., https://www.adafruit.com/products/618 or https://www.adafruit.com/products/931 running simple games, etc?

    2. John Savard Silver badge

      Not Really

      An actual BBC micro would be hugely expensive for its computing power.

      I am enough of an old fogey to think that if you really want the kids to write programs, you should give them something with an actual keyboard. But I'm not sure how that could be managed at a low cost, despite some keyboards being cheap.

      Of course, the telly tax hobbled the computer era in Britain, as elsewhere people used old TV sets they didn't watch any more but hadn't thrown away as monitors for their computers, essentially free.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hope it's better than "Girls Can Code"

    Having cringed while watching the superficial and patronising "Girls Can Code" on BBC3 this week, I don't have high hopes for any programming initiatives from the BBC. They don't appear to have a clue what "coding" means.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I hope it's better than "Girls Can Code"

      Indeed, I'm sure Ian McNaught-Davis would have been very disappointed if he could have seen the rubbish the BBC is spewing out these days under the guise of educating the masses about computers.

      The BBC Micro created a whole generation of IT enthusiasts, the current stuff is buried in politically correct "isn't this clever" crap.

      1. LeeV

        Re: I hope it's better than "Girls Can Code"

        @AC "Indeed, I'm sure Ian McNaught-Davis would have been very disappointed if he could have seen the rubbish the BBC is spewing out these days under the guise of educating the masses about computers."

        Yes, I think Mac would have been very upset about the current situation...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I hope it's better than "Girls Can Code"

      Absolutely. I watched with a mixture of hope, disbelief and cynicism, hoping that at least it would be entertaining. Unfortunately it couldn't even manage that. 20 minutes later I was on another channel and that series is a write-off.

  15. 27escape
    FAIL

    By the time they are ready

    The year of code will be over and another opportunity missed

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Girls can code - from the BBC

    "Hey girls! I'm Professor Fumbles McByte and me and my pet peripheral Dongle (he's right in here ladies) are going to teach you how to code. Ooh! I've painted your computers pink so you love them more, (don't want to use a boring beige boy's machine, now do we?). Ok, sit comfortably ladies, as me and Dongle (woof!) start lesson 1.

    Lesson 1 - click here and type the following into this box: w w w . f a c e b o o k . c o m

    Never mind what it all means, ladies, it's boys' magic. Cool!

    You've all passed the exam with 120%. That's wowtastic ladies! What do you think, Dongle? (Woof!)"

    There is no lesson 2.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Girls can code - from the BBC

      Please tell me this is not real.

      going to teach you

      I detect a brutally paternalistic action expression. Can't this be be rewritten?

  17. heyrick Silver badge

    Lesson number one, kiddies...

    Mumble mumble specified by management and not engineers mumble mumble cheapest bidder mumble mumble.

  18. Captain DaFt

    Why do they keep calling it 80s programming?

    The 80s had the Micro, the Spectrum, C64 and TI 99/4a. (among others)

    This little device smacks of 70s style computing.

  19. SMabille

    TV programs?

    While the BBC 80's version was an amazing initiative that generate a generation of IT serfs/engineers, the 2016 version seems far more pointless: Why bother having TV programs about coding??? Since the 80's we now have a fantastic source of alternative tailored content available on demand... Yes: The "Internet"!

    Is it really the role of the BBC to finance public education when it can't float channels and programmes with shrinking funding (thanks to a Murdoch affiliated government)?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: TV programs?

      Arguably yes, it really is, according to the last charter renewal in 2006, if https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Charter is correct. "Promoting education and learning;". You could interpret that as the BBC doesn't actually need to educate, just promote education by others? :)

  20. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    On the contrary...

    ...An issue with the device's power supply is the reason for the delay. Which is fair enough as it's all very well to teach kids to hack, but not if they learn what it's like to cop a jolt from the device's batteries along the way....

    'Copping a jolt' is an essential part of every electrical engineer's learning experience... and used to be part of every kid's learning experience in the days when science labs still had van de Graff generators...

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