Device Simulator Express expands to the BBC micro:bit and Adafruit CLUE

Last summer, a group of Garage Interns teamed up with Adafruit to create Device Simulator Express, a Microsoft Garage project. The VS Code extension enabled makers, hobbyists, and student developers to program the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, with or without the physical device. Today, we’re excited to announce that a second team of interns has built upon the original Garage project to add two boards during their internship: the BBC micro:bit and the Adafruit CLUE. Try the VS Code extension now.


Expanding to the micro:bit and the CLUE

Typically in the Garage Internship, students will work in teams to create a new product or experience from scratch, responding to a challenge from an engineering or product sponsor (check Ink to Code or Seeing AI for some fan favorites). But, recently, the Garage Internship in Vancouver has been experimenting with a team from one cohort passing the baton to a second team to expand upon the intern project. In the case of Web Template Studio,  for example, another VS Code extension open sourced on GitHub, a second team of interns was able to enable additional front and back end services in response to community feedback and pull requests.


In the same way, a Garage Intern team from the Winter 2020 Cohort in Vancouver, BC was able to expand on the features and original board of the extension informed by user feedback. The team first set out to add the popular BBC micro:bit, which they enabled in preview mode in March. With extra time remaining in their sixteen week internship, the team set out to add a third circuit board, settling on the Adafruit CLUE. “We heard the CLUE would be given out at PyCon 2020 to all attendees, and we were excited to supplement this with the opportunity to simulate this with our extension. Unfortunately PyCon was cancelled, but we’re still excited to make this available to share this with not only the original attendees but also anyone else curious to try out the CLUE,” shared Vandy Liu, a Software Engineer Intern on the project.


The team continued the Summer 2019 partnership with Adafruit to enable simulation for the CLUE as well. Developers can enable CLUE features in preview mode beginning today. The team welcomes feedback via GitHub.


Python with or without a device

A lot of activities are going digital these days as we find new and creative ways to connect and be productive. Device Simulator Express expands access to makers, hobbyists, and student developers hoping to learn more about programming circuit boards with Python. The core principle of the extension is to provide a way to program microcontrollers with or without the board.


The simulator is designed to be extremely user friendly and build familiarity with Python, microcontrollers, and Visual Studio Code. As Sayyeda Mussa, the Program Manager Intern for Device Simulator Express explains,”Anyone at any level can pick any of the supported boards and start to work with their preferred microcontroller.” The team has been testing with TEALS, a Microsoft program that pairs Microsoft employees to classrooms around North America to teach computer science, and found that students new to VS Code were facing a dual learning curve. “We introduced a Getting Started feature that contains sample code snippets to make the experience even more accessible to beginners.”

Key features include:

  • Device simulation for those without hardware
  • Code deployment to devices
  • Auto-completion and error flagging
  • Integrated Python debugging for the simulator
  • Template file generation
  • Serial monitor (available on Windows and Mac only)
  • Getting started mode
  • Support for the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, BBC micro:bit, and Adafruit CLUE

When asked about why they were excited by the expansions, Andrea Mah, a Software Engineer Intern on the project, spoke of the ability to expand access and instill confidence in young developers. “When I was just getting started with computer science, it just felt like a lot of math,” she jokes. “I hope by making this tool more available, it gives others an opportunity to see themselves as programmers, because they can see the cause and effect of their work, which makes programming feel more like art than math.” Kevin Nguyen, another Software Engineer Intern added, “Our extension is really beginner friendly, but it’s based in VS Code and has a debugger and IDE, so it has the added bonus of giving you a little bit of what it’s like to work as a professional developer. For example, we use Visual Studio in our jobs; this experience allows students to preview that.”

Try it out

Device Simulator Express is available worldwide in the Visual Studio Marketplace. You can learn more about the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, BBC micro:bit. and Adafruit CLUE here. The team welcomes feedback via GitHub.

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