The BBC, working in collaboration with Lancaster University and Nominet, has managed to turn the micro.bit computer board into a functioning IoT device.
Launched in 2015, the micro.bit is a computer that aims to get young people interested in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
It’s 4cm by 5cm in size, and users are able to connect it up to Arduino and Raspberry Pi coding PCs. There’s also Bluetooth technology on board for connectivity.
But now researchers have found a method for the computers to transmit data packets between each other, which Nominet believes will let children learn how the internet and IoT function.
In order for the tech to be used in schools, it has to be easy-to-use and safe, Nominet has said. Its method would see data transferred between the boards with a special handle, meaning personal data isn’t stored.
As well as this, each child will also be able to access a private friend list, where they’ll be able to find their classmates’ handles. They can then add who they want, safely.
The method works with a Raspberry Pi acting as a gateway for connectivity, and Nominet will provide disk images for each Pi so there isn’t a need for lots of complex code.
When the user is connected, they select their handle through a gateway. It’s transferrable between micro:bits, which means they can use more than one.
Nominet’s IOT tools work as the backend system for the IoT network, with its registry storing data and providing a layer between devices – helping to keep things simple.
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Expanding IoT expertise
Adam Leach, Nominet director of research and development, says the organisation is developing this project so that it expands its existing IoT expertise.
He said: “We have built a strong set of tools that enable IoT applications and now we are on a mission to establish other use cases,” he said. “This project with the BBC will really show what our technology can do.”
“We introduced privacy by design by making sure personal data wasn’t part of the system in the first place,” said Leach. “We don’t want the name, password or email address of anybody using a micro:bit.”
Hands-on learning is vital
Simon Shen, CEO of 3D printer brand, XYZprinting, believes it’s vital that when it comes to teaching youngsters tech, they get a hands-on experience.
He told Internet of Business: “Educators have to make sure that youngsters are learning hands-on. With 3D printing, for example, kids get much more out of designing their own 3D model and seeing it being built in front of them than merely being told the mechanics.
“Tech organisations who want to get kids interested in internet technologies should make ‘play’ the centre of their design – using technology that’s fun removes a lot of barriers to learning and adoption. Take robots, for example: designing, assembling and programming a robot engages students across a range of STEAM skills while being fun – a great example of entertainment.”
Major skills shortage
Robert Dragan, CEO of Welsh edtech start-up Learnium, says there’s a major shortage of technical talent in the UK but says products like the micro:bit are doing their bit to solve this problem.
He told Internet of Business: “Let’s look at the big picture. The world is moving towards a digital and creative economy. Yet, the UK has a shortage of technical and scientific talent – the very people that will power the new economy. The future depends on promoting STEM subjects to young people.
“Children are most excited when they can apply creative thinking to the world around them. Using the micro:bit with the IoT promises just that. It’s a great opportunity that hopefully will upgrade the education system.”
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