Battle of the BBC boards

November 23, 2020 // By Nick Flaherty
The RISC-V-based BBC HiFive Inventor board (left) is taking on an upgraded version of the ARM-based BBC micro:bit
The RISC-V-based BBC HiFive Inventor board is taking on an upgraded version of the ARM-based BBC micro:bit

Two competing low cost development boards have launched today aimed at schools. A RISC-V board themed around the BBC’s Dr Who has been launched on the same day as an updated version of the ARM-based BBC micro:bit.

The BBC HiFive Inventor board (above, left) is the first low cost system for Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) learning programmes based around the RISC-V open source instruction set architecture.

BBC Learning, a division of BBC Studios teamed up with STEM platform developer Tynker and chip maker SiFive on the board and coding lessons narrated by Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. The ‘hand-shaped’ board uses the FE310-G003 from SiFive that is based around the E-31 RISC-V core running at 150MHz, with 64KB of data RAM and 512KB of flash storage. It also has four analogue-to-digital converters, I2C, SPI, UART, and GPIO interfaces and a microUSB port. There is also an eCompass sensor, temperature sensor and an ambient light sensor with a matrix of 6x8 LED lights. It can also be powered by a battery pack.

“Kids are the future, and my six- and eight-year-old love the BBC Doctor Who HiFive Inventor. It provides a great combination of block-based and real coding in a physical space that they can interact with and learn from. Coding is an incredible skill that allows us to build anything that you can imagine - apps, autonomous cars, and things we haven’t dreamed up yet - and kids have the best imaginations. We at SiFive love working with BBC Learning and Tynker to help drive this amazing collaboration, and move the state of computer education forward," said Dr. Chris Lattner, President of Engineering and Product at SiFive.

Farnell, the exclusive manufacturing partner of the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, is also shipping a new BBC micro:bit with a faster processor, more memory and sound and touch.

One of the most requested enhancements was the addition of a built-in speaker and microphone to allow children to be creative with sound

The HiFive Inventor (left) and updated micro:bit boards

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