What is Sino:bit?
The sino:bit is a small board learning computer designed by Naomi Wu and Elecrow in Shenzhen, China. Naomi took inspiration from the BBC micro:bit, a small computer designed for education in the United Kingdom. The micro:bit was hugely successful at introducing students to programming by providing a tiny computer that was ready to use out of the box without any soldering or complex software setup.
However the micro:bit was targeted at the United Kingdom and an audience of English speaking students as its tiny 5×5 matrix of LEDs can only display English language characters. Naomi saw the limitations of the micro:bit and worked with Elecrow to build a variant with a larger 12×12 matrix of LEDs that can display characters from Chinese and other languages. The brilliance of the Sino:bit is that it opens the door for computer education to a worldwide audience!
Since the sino:bit is based on the design of the BBC micro:bit (specifically a variant of the micro:bit called the Calliope Mini) it is almost identical in functionality to the micro:bit. Both boards have the exact same processor, sensors, and input hardware. The big difference with the sino:bit is that it has a larger grid of LEDs. At a lower level though there are a few other minor differences:
- The sino:bit LED matrix is driven by a dedicated LED matrix driver chip instead of by the board’s CPU with the micro:bit. This has an advantage of freeing the processor from complex display update logic and enables a larger grid of LEDs. However one important difference between the boards is that the micro:bit supports 10 levels of brightness for each individual pixel, whereas the sino:bit only supports a global brightness of 16 levels that applies to all pixels at once.
- The sino:bit buttons are reversed relative to the micro:bit. If you hold the boards in the same orientation the A and B buttons are swapped in position.
- The sino:bit exposes access to its serial UART and I2C bus through grove style connectors, making it easy to interface with many third-party sensors. In addition the sino:bit exposes all of the processor’s GPIO pins through a 13×2 pin header near the bottom of the board. This header is exactly the same type as used on a Raspberry Pi so many Pi accessories can potentially be interfaced with the board, however note the pin functionality and pinout is not the same as the Raspberry Pi!
- In addition to the interfaces mentioned above the sino:bit includes a few more large GPIO ports on the corners of the board. The micro:bit exposes pins 0, 1, 2 whereas the sino:bit exposes pins 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Note that the holes on the sino:bit are slightly larger than on the micro:bit and won’t grip a banana plug as well as on the micro:bit.
All other functions of the sino:bit, like its accelerometer and magnetometer, are exactly the same as the micro:bit!
Programming of Sino:bit
With the micro:bit there are primarily three ways to program or run code on it:
- Using the Arduino IDE and the Arduino language.
- Using MicroPython and the Python programming langauge.
Since the sino:bit is so similar to the micro:bit it’s possible to use with almost all the above tools too! In fact there’s already a handy guide on using the sino:bit with Arduino that you can explore now. This guide will explore how to use a new port of MicroPython for the sino:bit and program the board with Python code just like a micro:bit! Note that Microsoft’s MakeCode doesn’t yet unfortunately support the full capabilities of the sino:bit (like drawing to its display).