September 16th 2015: The BBC micro:bit and C++

Time and Location

September 16th, 2015 at 7:00 PM
Steptoe Room, Cafeteria 40,
Microsoft Campus,
156th Ave NE,
Redmond, WA 98052.


The BBC micro:bit is a small wearable and programmable mbed-based device that visibly features a 5x5 LED display, accelerometer, compass, buttons, I/O pins, Micro USB plug, Bluetooth Low Energy antenna, ARM Cortex-M0 processor, and battery plug. Just like Arduino, the micro:bit can be connected to and interact with sensors, displays, and other devices. The first wave of micro:bits will land in UK schools this autumn, with every Year 7 student in the UK receiving a micro:bit, for free. As a partner on the micro:bit project, Microsoft’s goals are to provide: (1) a browser-based introductory programming experience for students who have never programmed before; (2) an architecture that allows students to dig deeper to uncover the many capabilities of the micro:bit; (3) materials and a platform to support teachers with the micro:bit in their classrooms. We extended TouchDevelop to support a progression of languages with accompanying browser-based editors. I’ll describe the technology stack we created in partnership with ARM and Lancaster University to make it simple for students to get started coding with micro:bit from a web browser, and then uncover the complexity that lies underneath in the micro:bit’s C++ runtime. The Block Editor provides an introduction to structured programming via blocks that can be snapped together. Touch Develop introduces a statically-typed scripting language with syntax-directed editor. Browser-based compilers from the Block Editor to Touch Develop and from Touch Develop to C++ automate the transition from a visual language to a text-based language, and then to C++, the language of the mbed-based micro:bit. For more information: see and


Thomas Ball (Tom) is a Principal Researcher and Research Manager at Microsoft Research. Tom graduated with a B.A. in Computer Science from Cornell University in 1987 and a M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1993. From 1993-1999, he was a member of the technical staff at Bell Laboratories, where he made contributions in program visualization and program profiling. In 1999, Tom moved to Microsoft Research, where he started the SLAM software model checking project with Sriram Rajamani, which led to the creation of the Static Driver Verifier (SDV) tool for finding defects in device driver code. Tom and Sriram received the 2011 CAV Award “for their contributions to software model checking, specifically the development of the SLAM/SDV software model checker that successfully demonstrated computer-aided verification techniques on real programs.” Tom is a 2011 ACM Fellow for “contributions to software analysis and defect detection”. Since becoming a manager at Microsoft, he has nurtured research areas such as automated theorem proving, program testing/verification, empirical software engineering. His current focus is programming education via the TouchDevelop and BBC micro:bit projects


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