BBC micro:bit update adds support for AI and ML applications

The new microcomputer is also four times as fast as the 2016 model and boasts eight times the amount of RAM

The BBC has announced a new version of its micro:bit computer that will enable children to develop skills in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

The BBC micro:bit, a project now run by the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, is a low-cost microcomputer that’s somewhat similar to the Raspberry Pi. Unlike the Pi, however, the BBC's pocket-sized PC is distributed to classrooms across the globe to help children learn how to code on a small-scale.

In a bid to expand the digital skills that children can acquire using the device, the BBC has announced the first update to the micro:bit since the ARM-based system first made its debut in 2016.

The new BBC micro:bit is four times as fast as the 2016 model, with the ARM processor now running at 64MHz compared to 16Mhz, and it packs eight times the amount of RAM (128kb) and double the amount of flash storage (512kb). There’s also a built-in microphone and speaker on the new model, enabling the device to respond to sound for the first time. 

These hardware updates also mean that the device will be able to run AI and ML applications, allowing children to experiment with these technologies in the classroom. 

Gareth Stockdale, CEO of the micro:bit Educational Foundation, said: "The purpose of the micro:bit is to help children unlock their creative potential and learn how to shape the world around them. Learning coding and computational thinking can enhance their life chances in the 21st century.

“We have worked closely with our thriving community to make it even easier to get the most out of the device both inside and outside the classroom.

“Getting hands-on and experimenting with the micro:bit is critical to helping children better understand important technologies early in their development, and we aim to make this as fun, accessible and affordable as possible."

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According to the company, five million micro:bits are already used for teaching digital skills and computational thinking. The Foundatioon has also donated 5,000 devices to families in the UK to help with home schooling during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new BBC micro:bit will be available from mid-November 2020 at the same price point as the original (roughly $17). The new version of the micro:bit is backwards compatible with the 2016 board too, which means all existing code will continue to work.

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