BBC micro:bit V2 In-Depth - Major Upgrades!
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BBC micro:bit V2 In-Depth - Major Upgrades!

Joshua Lowe
Joshua Lowe

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Today, the Micro:bit Educational Foundation have announced the launch of micro:bit V2, a brand new BBC micro:bit which sees the biggest upgrade to the device since launch in 2016. Available from mid-November, V2 will include a built-in speaker and microphone as well as several other new features, opening up a new world of possibilities for micro:bit which enables users to get creative straight out of the box. The hardware also features several technical upgrades to equip the micro:bit for the future, making it the ideal tool for creative computing projects.

At micro:mag, we managed to get hands-on with the micro:bit V2 early and we'd like to give you an in-depth look at what this new micro:bit offers.

Front and back of the BBC micro:bit V2. Credit: micro:mag

What's new?

The new micro:bit brings a whole host of new onboard features and tech upgrades whilst keeping all the things students, teachers and makers love about the original. This means the new micro:bit will be compatible with existing lessons, code and add-on boards that the original is.

Also, as part of the Micro:bit Educational Foundation's commitment to keeping the device as cost-effective and accessible as possible, the new device released in mid-November this year and will be at the same price point as the original which is impressive given the new features (and shiny new packaging!).

New Packaging. Credit: Micro:bit Educational Foundation

The updated micro:bit has been designed in consultation with teachers and the global community of micro:bit fans to ensure continuity and simplicity in teaching with the latest device. So without further ado, let's take a look at those new features in more detail.

Speaker

In the centre of the board on the back is an onboard speaker. Credit: micro:mag

One of the big features the community have wanted on the micro: bit is now here, an onboard speaker! Gone are the days of connecting headphones or wiring up a speaker to create music with your micro:bit, the new onboard speaker on the back of the micro:bit V2 provides a great platform for getting started with the music functionality in MakeCode and Python. Making sound and music is one of the first things children and teachers do to get truly creative with technology in the classroom, so the addition of a built-in speaker was a natural next step for the foundation.

Using the speaker within MakeCode and Python is super simple. All you have to do is enable the onboard speaker for all the music commands within your editor of choice and use the music functionality like you would if you had an external speaker attached.

Speaker enable block within MakeCode

Below is a demo of the onboard speaker, taken from the "out of the box" program that is preloaded on the micro:bit V2. The speaker gives off a decent amount of sound making it perfect for classroom use.

With the built-in speaker, students can take their creativity to new levels with the latest micro:bit - compose music, give projects a voice and personality or build interactive, motion-sensitive instruments. The possibilities are endless.

Microphone

The second major upgrade is the onboard Knowles MEMs microphone sensor. This enables the new micro:bit to respond to sound and execute code accordingly depending on the level of sound. Just like the speaker, the microphone is placed on the back of the board and can be identified by a small gold rectangle. We tested the microphone by creating a simple project that would play some music with the onboard speaker when the microphone detected a clap.

The onboard microphone. Credit: micro:mag

Paired to the microphone is an LED which shines through the board illuminating a microphone icon. Every time the microphone is listening, the LED will turn on which we think is a really nice touch. The Foundation also state that the LED is a great way to teach about the importance of privacy and the impact listening devices have on our lives.

Microphone LED illuminated. Credit: micro:mag

In MakeCode, the microphone is easy to use within your projects with blocks for getting the sound level and executing code on loud or quiet sounds.

A popular project is using the microphone on the micro:bit as a clap sensor, using the microphone in this way opens up a whole new world of projects that you can do with just a micro:bit.

Logo Touch

In addition to the two buttons as input devices on the micro:bit, there's now another type of input in the form of the micro:bit logo! On the original micro:bit, the micro:bit "face" logo was the same colour as the triangles, but now on V2, the micro:bit logo is a copper capacitive touch button that can be used as an input device just like the two buttons.

Copper logo on top of the micro:bit v2. Credit: micro:mag

The logo touch functionality can be used just like the buttons in MakeCode too with on logo pressed and on logo released blocks to execute code on the touch of the logo.

MakeCode Blocks for logo touch input

Having another touch input device is really handy and with this addition, the micro:bit now has four unique ways to respond to touch input. A Button, B Button, A+B Buttons and the logo touch.

Sleep Mode + Power Consumption.

Another cool feature of the micro:bit V2 is sleep mode. By holding the reset button on the back for a few seconds you can activate the new sleep mode function. This will stop the running program on the micro:bit until you press the reset button to wake it up. This is really handy for lessons where you're using the speaker and want to stop the noise but don't want the hassle of unplugging and plugging the micro:bit back in every time. You can tell the micro:bit is in sleep mode with the new power LED on the back which is solid red when the micro:bit is powered on and running a program and pulsing when the micro:bit is in sleep mode.

As well as sleep mode, the new micro:bit is capable of lower power consumption, allowing for long-running data logging out and about. We can see this being really helpful for remote monitoring over LoRa and similar technologies.

The new power LED is next to the micro USB port. Credit: micro:mag

Spec Upgrades

In addition to new features, the BBC micro:bit V2 has several spec upgrades. The processor has received a big upgrade to the nRF52833 from the nRF51822 which will enable people to run more demanding tasks like AI and Machine Learning, something the Micro:bit Educational Foundation say they are working on for release next year and is a big focus of theirs for the V2.
The flash memory has also doubled to 512Kb allowing bigger programs to be uploaded and the RAM has gone from just 16Kb to 128Kb, that's eight times as much!

Alongside this is more current for accessories. Add-on boards can now access over double the current than on the original micro:bit with the upgrade from 90mA to 200mA, this should enable companies to make more advanced and demanding add-on boards with the micro:bit V2.
The last two spec upgrades are the additions of a dedicated I2c bus for peripherals as well as Bluetooth 5.0 instead of Bluetooth 4.0 like on the original micro:bit.

These spec upgrades will open up a new range of possibilities for add-on board makers and will give the micro:bit more power to undertake more complex projects and tasks.

Another area we're hoping to see improved with these spec bumps is MicroPython. Hopefully MicroPython will soon be able to take advantage of features that MakeCode has like mobile flashing via the app and Bluetooth functionality soon. These weren't possible on the V1 micro:bit due to spec and size constraints. We'll have to see what the foundation have in store over the coming months.

Notched Edge Connector + Capacitive Touch

Notches on the edge connector. Credit: micro:mag

Another noticeable change on the new micro:bit is the notched edge connector. At the bottom of each of the larger pins is a small cut out which will allow easier connection of croc clips. An issue many teachers had with the original micro:bit was that croc clips would often slip off the pin they're connected to, but now with the notched edge connector, you can connect the croc clip to the hole and the cut out on the pin so that they stay in place.

Notched edge connector with croc clips connected. Credit: Micro:bit Educational Foundation

Another thing to note about the edge connector is the switch from resistive touch to capacitive touch. This means, for one of the large ring pins to detect input, you no longer need to complete a circuit! This is the same technology that is being used for the logo touch feature we talked about earlier.

Compatibility

A concern I'm sure many teachers and users will have with the new micro:bit is compatibility, this is something that the Micro:bit Educational Foundation have worked hard on to ensure that code can run seamlessly on V1 and V2.

Unfortunately, existing HEX files will not work, however, there is a simple fix. You will first need to update the hex files by dragging and dropping them into the code editor in which they were created and re-download the code. This will create a new Universal Hex File, a new type of HEX file that will run on both V1 and V2 micro:bits, so you won't have to worry about compatibility or select your version of micro:bit on download! A clear indication that you are working with this format is that a compiled .hex file will be ~1.8Mb as opposed to ~700Kb in size. The Universal Hex format has been developed to ensure the best experience for users when moving between board variants. If a V1 only .hex is detected on a V2 board it will throw an error, but a Universal Hex file will work seamlessly between both micro:bits. We think this is a really handy and important feature so that the V1 micro:bit doesn't feel left behind.

Whilst not released yet, we've been informed that there will also be an online tool/CLI in the future to convert old HEX files into new Universal HEX files.

As for hardware compatibility, the new micro:bit will be compatible with the majority of existing add-on boards and accessories. The pinout on V2 has mostly stayed the same with the exception of the LED column pins being swapped around which not many add-on boards take advantage of. The V2 is also the same dimensions as the current micro:bit, however, with significant changes to the back of the board, we do not expect existing cases to be compatible with the new micro:bit.

Comparing V1 and V2

Of course, our article wouldn't be complete without showing you some comparison photos of the V1 compared to the new V2.

Below is the front of the micro:bit, with V2 on the left and V1 on the right. Not that many visual changes here apart from the copper logo and notched edge connector. Hidden on the photo is the exposed PCB for the microphone indicator.

Left V2, Right V1. Credit: micro:mag

Where you really notice a difference is on the back of the board. As you can tell a lot has changed on V2 (left). The radio/Bluetooth antenna is now at an angle and has a new copper finish to make it easier to identify.

Left V2, Right V1. Credit: micro:mag

In the middle of the board is the buzzer which is also at an angle (a theme with the components on the back on V2 which we really like!). Just above it in the form of a golden rectangle is the microphone and to the left of that is the upgraded processor.

You'll also notice that there are now three LEDs on the back of the micro:bit V2 compared to the one. These are for the microphone indicator, flash LED and power LED which we covered earlier on in the article.

Staying the same as on the V2 is the JST battery connector, reset button and micro USB port (which we would have liked to see upgraded to USB C but understand the reason behind wanting the v2 to be a drop-in replacement for current V1 users)

As mentioned earlier, there is not much change to the pinout of the V2 to ensure compatibility with resources and add-on boards. Below is a chart, courtesy of the Micro:bit Educational Foundation showing the differences. An interactive version of the pinout will become available on microbit.pinout.xyz soon.

Pinout Comparison chart. Left - V2. Right - V1. Credit: Micro:bit Educational Foundation

Thoughts on V2

We really like the new V2 micro:bit and feel that it's a great board to build on the success of the original. Adding features like the onboard speaker and microphone add a whole new world of project possibilities for those getting a micro:bit for the first time as well as long time users of the micro:bit.

The new micro:bit now adds so much more out of the box without the need for add-on boards, further improving what you can do with just a micro:bit and nothing else. What's more is the fact the Foundation has stuck to the same price point, showing their commitment to ensuring everyone can access the new and improved micro:bit. We really believe that the new micro:bit is the gift to get aspiring young coders this holiday season and there's never been a better time to get involved with micro:bit.

The new micro:bit is the result of a major collaboration between the Foundation, Arm, BBC, British Council, Farnell, IET, Microsoft, Lancaster University, Nominet, Nordic Semiconductor and NXP. The Foundation also announces a new partner in OKdo, who alongside Farnell will be a global distributor of the micro:bit and we'd like to thanks these organisations for creating this amazing device.

We're not the only ones excited about the new micro:bit, here's what some of the members who were involved in this project had to say.

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."

BBC Director General, Tim Davie, said:

"From the very beginning, the BBC's purpose has been to inform, educate and entertain - qualities which are all reflected in the micro:bit project."Since its launch through our Make it Digital campaign, it has helped transform digital skills and learning. I have no doubt the updated and upgraded micro:bit will drive further innovation and creativity, both in the UK and around the world."

So happy new micro:bit day! We're really excited for you all to get your hands on the new micro:bit and we can't wait to see what the community does with it. Expect many V2 posts and coverage in the coming weeks on micro:mag where we'll be showing you how to make the most of the new features on the new micro:bit.

If you'd like to use our photos in your own articles or on social media, please feel free to use them with credit.

Testing was conducted with a prototype micro:bit V2 and beta software, details are subject to change before general release.