Some thirty years after it launched its first microcomputer for school, BBC began handing out a new pocket-sized codeable computer - dubbed the micro:bit - for one million school children this morning.

The new computer, similar to the Raspberry Pi, will be given to 11 or 12-year-olds in year 7 across the UK, for free.

The BBC first introduced many school children to computing for the first time in 1981, when it produced its BBC Micro. Today's giveaway is part of its 2015 Make It Digital initiative, inspiring young people to be creative and develop core skills in science, technology and engineering.

Partners involved in the development and distribution of the micro:bit include ARM, Barclays, BBC, element14, Freescale, Lancaster University, Microsoft, Nordic Semiconductor, Samsung, ScienceScope, Technology Will Save Us and the Wellcome Trust.

Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC said: "Channelling the spirit of the Micro for the digital age, the BBC micro:bit will inspire a new generation in a defining moment for digital creativity here in the UK. All you need is your curiosity, creativity and imagination - we'll provide the tools. This has the power to be transformative for the UK. The BBC is one of the few organisations in the world that could convene something on this scale, with such an unprecedented partnership at its core."

Measuring 4cm by 5cm, the micro:bit is available in a range of colours and is designed to be fun and easy to use, allowing children to transition to more complicated codeable boards like the Raspberry Pi or Arduino in the future.

It will allow children to code simple tasks in "seconds", like lighting up its LEDs or displaying a pattern - with no prior knowledge of computing.

It also connects to other devices, sensors, kits and objects.

Key features include:

  • 25 red LEDs to light up, flash messages, create games and invent digital stories
  • Two programmable buttons activated when pressed. Use the micro:bit as a games controller. Pause or skip songs on a playlist.
  • On-board motion detector or 'accelerometer' that can detect movement and tell other devices you're on the go. Featured actions include shake, tilt and freefall. Turn the micro:bit into a spirit level. Light it up when something is moved. Use it for motion-activated games.
  • A built-in compass or 'magnetometer' to sense which direction you're facing, your movement in degrees, and where you are. Includes an in-built magnet, and can sense certain types of metal.
  • Bluetooth Smart Technology to connect to the internet and interact with the world around you. Connect the micro:bit to other micro:bits, devices, kits, phones, tablets, cameras and everyday objects all around. Share creations or join forces to create multi-micro:bit masterpieces. Take a selfie. Pause a DVD or control your playlist.
  • Five Input and Output (I/O) rings to connect the micro:bit to devices or sensors using crocodile clips or 4mm banana plugs. Use the micro:bit to send commands to and from the rings, to power devices like robots and motors.

Each element of the BBC micro:bit is completely programmable via easy-to-use software on a dedicated website (available later in the summer at microbit.co.uk) that can be accessed from a PC, tablet or mobile. The website allows children to save and test creations in a simulator before they are transferred to the micro:bit.

Sinead Rocks, Head of BBC Learning, said: "We happily give children paint brushes when they're young, with no experience - it should be exactly the same with technology. The BBC micro:bit is all about young people learning to express themselves digitally, and it's their device to own. It's our most ambitious education initiative for 30 years. And as the micro:bit is able to connect to everything from mobile phones to plant pots and Raspberry Pis, this could be for the internet-of-things what the BBC Micro was to the British gaming industry."