SparkFun Inventor's Kit for micro:bit Experiment Guide
What is the micro:bit?
The micro:bit is a pocket-sized computer that lets you get creative with digital technology. You can code, customize and control your micro:bit from anywhere! You can use your micro:bit for all sorts of unique creations, from robots to musical instruments and more.
The micro:bit is the most recent project by the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) in an effort to bring computer science education and STEM topics to every student in the United Kingdom. It is an open development board that works in sync with onboard hardware components to get you started down the path of programming hardware.
At half the size of a credit card, each board is equipped with a surprising amount of hardware, including 25 red LED lights that can flash messages. There are two programmable buttons that can be used to control games or pause and skip songs on a playlist. The micro:bit can even detect motion and tell you which direction you’re heading. It can also use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to interact with other devices and the internet.
What is on the Board?
The micro:bit has a lot to offer when it comes to onboard inputs and outputs. In fact, there are so many things packed onto this little board that you would be hard-pressed to really need anything else if your goal is to explore the basics of programming and hardware.
On the front of the board there are a number of components that are pretty visible right off the bat!
- LED Array — The micro:bit has a 5x5 LED array that you can use as a tiny screen to draw on and display words, numbers and other information.
- A/B Buttons — Two buttons in all of their clicky glory: A is on the left, B is on the right, and both are prime for controlling a game of your design.
- Edge “Pins” — The gold tabs at the bottom of the board are for hooking up external components. The tabs with larger holes can be easily used with alligator clips to prototype things quickly!
- Light Sensor — A bit of a hidden gem. The LED array doubles as a light sensor!
The back is where a lot of the magic happens. Check it out…
- Microcontroller — The brains of the outfit. The micro:bit is powered by a 16MHz ARM Cortex-M0 microcontroller with 256KB Flash and 16KB RAM.
- Accelerometer/Compass — The micro:bit has an onboard accelerometer that measures gravitational force, as well as a compass that can detect its orientation using Earth’s magnetic field.
- Bluetooth/Radio — Communication is huge with the micro:bit. You can communicate with your phone or tablet using BLE or between two or more micro:bits using the standard “radio.”
- Temperature Sensor — No, the drawing is not numbered incorrectly! The microcontroller doubles as a temperature sensor!
- USB Port — Used to upload code to your micro:bit or power from your computer or laptop.
- Reset Button — A button to reset your micro:bit and start your code over from the beginning.
- JST Battery Connector — A connector to hook up an external battery pack to your micro:bit.
Hooking It Up
The micro:bit uses a microUSB cable to hook up to your computer or Chromebook. It is as simple as plugging the cable into your micro:bit and the other end into an open USB port.
Once you plug your board in, you should see the small yellow LED on the back of your micro:bit light up and possibly blink a few times. Then whatever existing program that was put on the micro:bit will start running. If this is your first time plugging your micro:bit in, go ahead and play around with it a bit — push buttons, shake it, and you will get a bit of an Easter egg.
Once your micro:bit boots up, check out your Finder if you are on a Mac, or your My Computer Drives if you are on a PC. The micro:bit should show up as an external storage device with two files stored in it.
If you are on a Chromebook, when you plug your micro:bit in you will be greeted with a dialog box to open the drive. Feel free to do so to make sure it works!