A Peek Inside A Typical British Residential Power Panel

No matter what field you’re in, it’s interesting and instructive to find out how others practice it. That’s especially true with electrical distribution systems, where standards and practices differ from country to country and even between regions. This tour of a typical British residential electrical panel is a great example of the different ways that the same engineering problems can be solved, and the compromises that always attend any design.

We’re used to seeing [Big Clive] tearing interesting devices to bits, but rest assured that this electrical panel remains largely intact as it gives up its secrets. Compared to the distribution panels and circuit breakers common in North American residential construction, the British consumer unit is a marvel of neatness and simplicity. True, the unit on display hasn’t been put into service yet, and things will no doubt change once an electrician is through with it, but the fact that everything is DIN rail mounted is pretty cool. [Clive] explains a few of the quirks of the panel, such as the fact that what looks like a main breaker is in fact just an isolation switch, and that there are a pair of residual current devices (RCDs), which we call ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in North America, that also don’t act as circuit breakers, despite appearances. A stout bus bar is provided to link the RCDs to adjacent circuit breakers, forming two groups that are separately protected from ground faults.

[Clive] notes with dismay that the lugs of the bus bar can actually be inserted behind the rising clamp terminal on the breaker, resulting in poor connections and overheating. Still, we wouldn’t mind some of these concepts brought to panels in North America, which we covered a bit in a discussion on circuit protection a while back.

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Spreading christmas cheer w/ auto parts

The folks over at [Soup], a British marketing agency, thought up this cool project. It’s a set of handbells hooked up to an Arduino, actuated by central locking motors found in car doors. By the look of some pictures, there was also a Lego version. Songs written by users (through the online interface) are placed in the que of a server. Once it’s time for the song to be played, serproxy sends the Arduino an appropriate set of commands for ringing the bells in sequence. All of this happens in the [Soup] office while it is streaming live through a webcam.

We think that this is definitely a great way to use surplus auto parts. After all, not everyone can build helicopters.

It seems as though the bells are down for the moment, or the employees got a bit annoyed at hearing them constantly ring.

British hacker to be extradited to U.S.

British computer hacker [Gary McKinnon] lost his final appeal to block his extradition to the U.S. He stands accused of hacking into almost 100 U.S. military and NASA computers from his girlfriend’s aunt’s house in London over a four year period by the U.S. government. If convicted of the crimes in a U.S. court, he could face up to 70 years imprisonment. [Gary McKinnon] freely admitted to hacking into the computers, but claimed that he did it out of curiosity, not out of malice or any terroristic aims. He was looking for information on UFOs. The U.S. government claimed that in addition to hacking into the computers, he also stole 950 passwords and erased important files. [McKinnon’s] next move will be to appeal to the European Court, and if unsuccessful, he will have no other option but to stand trial in the U.S. court system.