16 top BBC micro:bit projects
Learn everything from beginner projects to challenges for confident coders
For a long time, the Raspberry Pi was the go-to device for DIY computing. Since its launch in 2012, it has single-handedly created a whole new form factor for building computer projects and learning to code. Since that time, however, a number of alternative devices have emerged, including the micro:bit.
The BBC’s micro:bit offers another way of introducing children to the world of coding, providing flexibility for projects designed to spark the imagination. First launched in 2015, it came with a 16MHz ARM CPU, which provided plenty of power to perform some pretty advanced projects and, with a whole catalogue of ideas to try on the BBC's own website, you had more than enough to get started on your coding journey.
On 13 October 2020, the micro:bit received its first major update, bringing with it updated hardware and features. The latest version is four times as fast as the original, running a 64MHz ARM processor, has eight times the amount of RAM (128kb), and double the amount of flash storage (512kb). The new model, which is available from November 2020, also has a built-in microphone and speaker, as well as support for applications that rely on artificial intelligence, opening up a whole new range of potential projects.
It’s because of its simplicity that the micro:bit is often the first device people pick up, regardless of age. Whether you fancy building a robot, want to invent a game, or just want to build an application that will provide a solution to one of life's woes, the micro:bit is a great starting point.
We've picked our favourites from the BBC's collection and identified some other projects you can get stuck into, whether you're a beginner, intermediate or advanced micro:bit user.
Getting started with the micro:bit
For each of these projects you can either follow the chosen programming language, or follow the guidance and adapt the steps for one of the other three programming languages supported by the micro:bit.
The programming language the micro:bit supports are:
- Microsoft Block Editor: a graphical drag-and-drop editor
- Microsoft Touch Develop: a text-based language, which comes pre-installed with a library of micro:bit commands
- MicroPython: a robust, text-based editor used by professional software developers
You can find tutorials and information about each of these programming languages on the micro:bit site.
Make your own light to illuminate your room during the dark night and customise it as you see fit. Thanks to the light sensor, your micro:bit can tell when light falling on the device gets to a certain level, which you can adjust, and lights up the device's LEDs. If you want, you can even change the image displayed on the micro:bit when it gets dark or even make it flash. It can be used as a safety light when you’re walking or cycling, or keep it in your room to appreciate its soothing glow.
Micro:bit Morse Code Machine
By John Goodman (M0RVJ)
Because multiple microcomputers can talk to each other via shortwave radio signals, it's perfect for using as a Morse Code machine. This demo by John Goodman shows a BBC micro:bit hooked up to a pair of CW transceivers.
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While one can be used for inputting the dashes and dots in sound using a piezo buzzer, while the other is hooked up to a speaker. It also features capacitive touch for inputting the code with just a few taps of the finger on the micro:bit. The code is stored in the memory as letters, so you can easily see what code has been sent between the two for reference (or if you're not adept at translating the beeps produced by the board.
The microcomputers are coded using Micropython and John has made the code available on GitHub. He's finessed the design since its original implementation to boost the range throughout a building and it now includes a menu that you can use by shaking the device.
Micro:bit Traffic Lights
By Anish Ansari
What can you do by hooking up breadboard, three resistors and jumper wires to a BBC micro:bit? Create a traffic light system that cycles through coloured LEDs like traffic lights. You can control the order of the lights and their brightness to make the perfect lineup for a micro city, for example.
The board is programmed using Microsoft MakeCode, although the developer has also included the MicroPython code for those that prefer more advanced coding.
Micro:bit Compass North
Never lose your sense of direction again thanks to this handy little compass that will show you which way is North. Your micro:bit has a compass sensor, also known as a magnetometer, that measures magnetic fields. When you first use it, you’ll have to calibrate it by tilting the device to light up each LED. Once you’ve got it up and running, it will show an “N” on the display when your device is pointing roughly in the right direction.
By Code Club
Frustration is a very basic but oh-so-addictive game that you're quite possibly familiar with already. It consists of a metal hoop or loop that you have to guide along another metal wire without the two touching. If contact is made, a buzzer goes off and you have to start again. This project shows you how to make your own version of the game, with the micro:bit showing the number of attempts, rather than making a noise.
By Will.I.Am and the BBC
The BBC micro:bit can be used to keep time with music. The Metronome-like project was developed in association with musician and technologist Will.I.Am. It uses a piezo buzzer alongside the micro:bit to make a noise and show an image on every beat to help the tempo keep in check. The tempo can also be slowed down or speeded up.
Micro:bit Flashing heart
By Microsoft Block
One of the simplest micro:bit projects to cut your teeth on is to make the device's LED grid form a flashing heart. You can create the code in the Microsoft Blocks graphical editor. The BBC tutorial will guide you through how to do this, and once you've got your head around it, the same principals can be used to make other shapes.
Micro:bit countdown timer
By 101 Computing
We can't think of many practical uses for a nine-second countdown timer - besides using it to trial 100-metre Olympic sprinters. However, 101 Computing's tutorial is a novel example of how the LEDs can be used to display numerals.
Micro:bit Combination Lock
By BBC Make It Digital and Wolfblood
Combination Lock is an easy way to protect your stuff and even to warn you of burglaries. The project relies on using the micro:bit to detect whether a circuit is complete or broken. By creating a circuit of copper tape and attaching a buzzer, your micro:bit will sound an alarm when the protected box, door, or drawer is opened. This tutorial walks you through setting up your very own lock and passcode.
Micro:bit Touch arpeggiator
By Technology Will Save Us
This is one of the most fun and relatively simple Micro Bit projects so far. Inspired by the BBC Touch Develop tutorial Banana Keyboard', it guides you through how to turn your Micro Bit into a touch-activated tone generator. All you need is an electronic buzzer, four wired crocodile clips, a micro-USB cable, and, erm, some fruit. Using this method, you could even play musical scales with more than one buzzer.
Micro:bit Step counter
By The Institute of Engineering and Technology
"I'm walking out the door with my micro:bit on my mind" is what you could be saying with if you follow this exquisite, and more involved, guide on how to turn your micro:bit into a stepometer. Following this project you'll be able to create a working stepometer that could compete with commercial equivalents.
Micro:bit Electronic name tag
By Technology Will Save Us
If you are a regular at technology conferences, or indeed any other conferences, then you’ll be familiar with having to wear a lanyard or name badge that allows you to hop between once talk or conference section to another. But such tag can be rather dull, so why not add a little pizzazz into your with a personalised badge powered by the micro:bit.
To get started you’ll need a micro:bit Telec version, a AAA battery cage with two AAA batteries, and some proficiency with a needle and thread. You won’t need much else, as this is a rather entry-level project to get you familiar with coding on the micro:bit; with a little bit of practice, you can get the LEDs to display things like basic emojis.
Once set up, you should have a badge that’ll at least set you apart from other conference attendees, and might even see you end up networking with more success.
Micro:bit LED circuit game
By Intense Computer Training
This project, from Intense Computer Training, is actually a fair straightforward circuit game. Following the video tutorial (no text version available at the time of publishing), you'll learn how to code the LED display so that individual LEDs can represent your counter on the five-by-five grid.
Micro:bit racing game
By 101 Computing
This project is a ridiculous slice of work-time fun that's just waiting to engage (or possibly disrupt) classrooms and lunch halls in Britain. Following this tutorial you'll turn the micro:bit's LED display into a drag racing game for up to five players. 101 Computing guides you through creating the game and duplicating the code for additional players.
Micro:bit Temperature reader
The micro:bit can also be turned into a pretty decent temperature reader. While it lacks a heat sensor, you can configure it to display the temperature of, say, a CPU, which is pretty handy for PC builders. Things get even more interesting when you add a thermistor to the micro:bit, which can be dipped into food and drinks to record the temperature directly – though this requires some advanced coding and is only for the most dedicated micro:bit enthusiasts.
Micro:bit Irrigation system
When given the simple task of watering a classroom spider plant, a group of Canadian schoolchildren decided to use a micro:bit to build an irrigation system instead.
The Grade 7 students from St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton, Ontario, had been studying the impacts of fertiliser use on the environment, as well as indoor farming technologies and hydroponics. They were then given the opportunity to use their knowledge in combination with some basic programming skills, by building a system which would sense when the plant becomes dry and needs to be watered with the help of a programmed water pump.
Their teacher Rodenna Fallis told The Spec that group projects like this are beneficial in raising “critical thinkers, problem-solvers and thoughtful collaborators".
“My whole mission is to make them feel equipped in the digital world ... and how to be good stewards of the earth. This is exactly why I love teaching my kids coding, because they just feel like they’re a part of something bigger," she added.
Images in this article courtesy of the respective parties behind each project
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