The micro:bit plugs into the back and then, powered by 3 AA batteries, you have access to the following features:
- 4 square tactile buttons (digital inputs).
- a dial potentiometer with MIN and MAX labels.
- a 2-axis analog joystick with centre push switch.
- 6 RGB LEDs (Neopixel-style).
- powered miniature buzzer
It comes in a nice, protective box so you can put it away when not needed:
It, of course, does not come with the micro:bit itself, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve got one in order to play about with the Bit:Commander.
Once programmed, you slot the micro:bit into the usual connector at the top of the controller. You insert your batteries, flick the On/Off switch and a little blue LED comes on to tell you the board has power.
Gareth over at 4tronix has provided a MakeCode extension which you install using the Advanced package adder in the MakeCode interface. Once revealed, the extension gives you access to all the inputs and outputs and you can get on with coding. You can also control the board using MicroPython and a link to an external website is provided to help you get started. There’s no specific library for the Bit:Commander, but it’s pretty easy to get to grips with it once you know which pin is connected to what.
The controller feels good in the hands – it’s just large enough for an adult and would be perfect for smaller hands (which, of course, the micro:bit is aimed at). Most importantly, it’s colourful and bright; just the kind of thing to appeal to younger programmers.
I had a little play around with the various functions (except the buzzer because I don’t like that kind of noise in the quiet of the evening! 😉 ) Here’s a quick video in which I use one of the tactile buttons to turn the LEDs on. I then control their brightness with the dial potentiometer and control the speed of the cycling rainbow LEDs using the X-axis of the analog joystick. It’s a simple program (because I’m not that good with MakeCode!) but I hope it shows you a little what it can do. The Hex file that I created can be downloaded inside a .zip file here.
Of course, just using the Bit:Commander by itself is relatively easy – there’s even a Simple Simon game that someone’s written that you can upload to it. What I’d like to see it used for is as a robotics controller – that 2-axis analog joystick is great for speed control and direction, for example. Or alternatively, you could use the dial to set the speed and just use the joystick for direction. The other buttons could be used to trigger sound and light effects and the buzzer’s great for giving you an indicator of state.
I was really impressed with it – it’s solid, just the right size, very well-designed and has great potential as either a games controller, robotics controller or standalone plaything. Another big thumbs-up from me!