Published: March 21, 2018

Tom Ball demonstrates MakeCode on his computer,  surrounded by workshop participants.

Tom Ball, software engineering research manager from Microsoft Research, led a one-day MakeCode workshop on March 2, at the ATLAS Laboratory for Playful Computation. The packed room included students and faculty from ATLAS, as well as from institutes, departments and schools across the CU Boulder campus, including education, cognitive science, information science and computer science. Engineers from Sphero and SparkFun Electronics also participated.

Microsoft Research MakeCode’s free, open-source block and JavaScript learn-to-code editor is a joint project between Microsoft Research and its developer division. The project’s goal: to simplify programming microcontroller-based devices, such as the micro:bit, using a modern web application. The JavaScript editor includes code snippets, tooltips and error detection.  

MakeCode vastly simplifies the work necessary for developers to make their own programming editors,” says Ben Shapiro, an assistant professor in the ATLAS Institute and the Department of Computer Science. Annie Kelley works on a keyboard attached to her computer during the MakeCode workshop.

“For example, say you have a robot wired to a microcontroller and you want to be able to easily program it in different ways; MakeCode is a great platform to create the user-interface,” says Shapiro.

Workshop participants used MakeCode’s editor to program a variety of environments. ATLAS doctoral student Annie Kelly is using MakeCode to create a new website that controls the ATLAS tower lights. When finished, it will allow users to write code for different conditions, such as turning the lights blue when it’s snowing. Kelly also used MakeCode to create ARcadia, a tangible interface prototyping toolkit — using vision-based AR technologies instead of custom electronics to track interaction with tangibles.

“It was a great visit,” says Shapiro. “In six months, we’re going to be able to point to several projects that grew out of it. We’re really lucky to be working with Tom and his team.”