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Take The BBC micro:bit To The Next Level With Bluetooth Low Energy

When you first meet the BBC micro:bit there is a natural progression that occurs as you learn how to interact with it. The first step is usually learning how to use the available tools to create some code that make things appear on the BBC micro:bits LED screen, things like pictures or scrolling messages. Although this can be fun for a time, there are only so many messages you can scroll across its LED's before you reach the limits of that activity.

Take The BBC micro:bit To The Next Level With Bluetooth Low Energy

The logical next step is to learn how to make use of the BBC micro:bits accelerometer, compass, light sensors and temperature sensors before moving on to learning how to process input and output via the BBC micro:bits edge connector. It's the edge connector that first allows you to begin to interact with the world outside of the BBC micro:bit. From the edge connector you can monitor the state of electronic circuits to measure all sorts of things, such as; changes in light, temperature and wind speed to name just a few. You can also write code that allows you to interact directly with external devices, such as; motors, servo's and voltage controlled switches. The things you can do via the edge connector are far more extensive than we have touched on here, despite this it will only be a matter of time before you begin to wonder what can be done via Bluetooth Low Energy.......

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Take The BBC micro:bit To The Next Level With Bluetooth Low Energy:

The BBC micro:bit uses Bluetooth Low Energy, a power friendly version of Bluetooth technology that allows for wireless communication between devices such as PCs, smartphones and tablets allowing for seamless connection to the Internet of things. Every smartphone and tablet platform available comes with Bluetooth Low Energy API's. Android, iOs, Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10 and even Tizen.

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Martin Woolley is an industry veteran with over 30 years’ experience working with computers large, small and ….. getting smaller. He still has a Sinclair ZX81 somewhere. Martin is a part of the BBC micro:bit team and designed the BBC micro:bit’s Bluetooth profile. When Martin first discovered Bluetooth low energy it struck him as a phenomenally exciting, useful and developer-friendly technology and a perfect fit for this age of the Internet of Things. Martin is the Bluetooth SIG's Technical Programme Manager for the EMEA region.

We've been keenly following Martin's Bluetooth Low Energy work, and play, via his blog and twitter account as he offers regular updates and insights into how to make the most of the BBC micro:bits Bluetooth Low Energy functionality.

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Pairing The BBC micro:bit With A Phone Or Tablet:

The first step to linking your Phone or Tablet to your BBC micro:bit is to pair them. This creates trust between the devices and paves the way to controlling one device with another. Below is an excellent video by Martin detailing every step of the Android pairing process.

 

In the video, Martin used nRF Master Control Panel (BLE) to test that his phone and BBC micro:bit were paired correctly. RF Master Control Panel is a powerful generic tool that allows you to scan, advertise and explore your Bluetooth Smart (BLE) devices and communicate with them. You can download the App for your Android device here.  Note: This App requires Android version 4.3 and up.

Controlling The Kitronik Line Following Buggy Using Bluetooth Low Energy:

For a great example of what can be done when controlling the BBC micro:bit over Bluetooth Low Energy see Martin Woolley's video below. Martin has developed an Android application to enable the testing and demonstration of the many Bluetooth capabilities which the BBC micro:bit has. In the video you can see him using his Android App to control a Kitronik Line Following Buggy. You can find more detailed information and the required BBC micro:bit code on Martin's Blog.

 

The App that Martin wrote and used in the above video is now available to download now from the Google Play Store and the source code is also due to be released soon.

In order for the BBC micro:bit to be controlled via Bluetooth Low Energy you will need to download a .hex file to your BBC micro:bit that enables all of the relevant Bluetooth services. You can find the download link for the BBC micro:bit .hex file for the remote control buggy here.

Further Information:

This article only scratched the surface of what is possible using the Bluetooth Low Energy functionality of the BBC micro:bit. For those that wish to dig deeper, the links below provide a wealth of relevant information.

We would also like to thank Martin Woolley for being so helpful and generous with his time. This article was put together largely with information and resources provided by Martin and he was always on hand to deal with all of our queries.

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