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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Britain Rejoins The Space Race

Jubilant crowds at the gates of Downing Street. (Jenny List)
Jubilant crowds at the gates of Downing Street. (Jenny List)

In a completely unexpected move, the British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday announced outside Number 10 Downing Street that the UK would resume its space launch programme, 47 years after its cancellation following the launch of the Prospero satellite. She outlined a bold plan with a target of placing the Doc Martens of a British astronaut on the Lunar surface as early as 2024. Funded by the £350m per week Brexit windfall, the move would she said place the country at the forefront of a new 21st century Space Race with the North Koreans.

An estimated 2 million jubilant supporters took to the streets of London at the news, bringing the capital to a halt as they paraded with colourful banners from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall past her Downing Street home. Meanwhile the value of shares in the popular British high street bakery firm Patisserie Gregoire jumped by 19% as it was revealed that their new vegan sausage roll had in fact been a secret trial of the British astronaut diet. Continue reading “Britain Rejoins The Space Race”

UV Glow Clock Tells The Time Glowingly

Reddit user [TuckerPi] wanted to make something to thank his father for helping him get through his engineering degrees. He hit it out of the park with this awesome glowing clock. The clock uses a strip of UV glow tape, which is rotated by a small stepper motor. On one side a UV LED is moved up and down by a second motor to make the tape glow underneath it. A Raspberry Pi drives the whole system, writing the time on the tape and rotating it to face outwards. Once a minute the clock rewrites the time on the rubber.

This is a lovely build that shows what [TuckerPI] learned in college, as he built most of the mechanism himself, cutting his own metal gears and parts and making a nice, simple case from African mahogany. He also shows his mistakes, such as his first attempt to build the glowing mechanism from silicon rubber mixed with UV powder. Although it worked initially, he found that the UV powder fell out of the rubber after a short while, so he replaced it with UV glow tape.

[TuckerPi] hasn’t published the full schematics of the device, but there is a lot of detail in the Imgur photos of the build and in the Reddit thread where he discussed the build. Kudos to him for finding an interesting and unique way to thank his father for his help.

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Hacking When It Counts: The Magnetron Goes to War

In 1940, England was in a dangerous predicament. The Nazi war machine had been sweeping across Europe for almost two years, claiming countries in a crescent from Norway to France and cutting off the island from the Continent. The Battle of Britain was raging in the skies above the English Channel and southern coast of the country, while the Blitz ravaged London with a nightly rain of bombs and terror. The entire country was mobilized, prepared for Hitler’s inevitable invasion force to sweep across the Channel and claim another victim.

We’ve seen before that no idea that could possibly help turn the tide was considered too risky or too wild to take a chance on. Indeed, many of the ideas that sprang from the fertile and desperate minds of British inventors went on to influence the course of the war in ways they could never have been predicted. But there was one invention that not only influenced the war but has a solid claim on being its key invention, one without which the outcome of the war almost certainly would have been far worse, and one that would become a critical technology of the post-war era that would lead directly to innovations in communications, material science, and beyond. And the risks taken to develop this idea, the cavity magnetron, and field usable systems based on it are breathtaking in their scope and audacity. Here’s how the magnetron went to war.

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Hackaday & Tindie UK Tour Adds Milton Keynes

Hackaday and Tindie are on the road in the UK and we want you to grab one of your projects and come hang out! We have three meetups scheduled over the coming week:

Fresh from our Dublin Unconference and following our London meetup which is happening today, Hackaday and Tindie are staying on the road. We’ve already told you about Nottingham on the 18th, and Cambridge on the 19th, to those two we’re adding Milton Keynes on the 23rd.

We’ll be at convening at Milton Keynes Makerspace on the evening of Monday the 23rd, a community hackspace venue with easy access and parking, and a vibrant community of members. It shares an industrial unit with the local Men In Sheds, so look out for their sign. Entry is free but please get a ticket so we know the amount of pizza and soft drinks we need to arrange.¬†Bring along whatever you are working on, we’d love to see one of your projects, whatever it is!

At the end of the month we will also be at Maker Faire UK in Newcastle, Meeting you, our readers, is important to us, and though we can’t reach everywhere we would like to try to get further afield in the future. Please watch this space.

Hackaday London Meet-up this Friday

Hackaday takes over London at the end of this week. Join us on Friday night as we host a meetup at the Marquis Cornwallis, a pub in Bloomsbury.

This is a Bring-a-Hack style meetup, so grab something you’ve been working on to get the conversation flowing as you enjoy food and drink with members of the Hackaday community from the area. Also on hand from the Hackaday Crew will be [Mike Szczys], [Elliot Williams], [Jenny List], [Pedro Umbelino], and [Adil Malik]. We’re consistently delighted by the many and varied projects that show up — we want to meet you and hear about your project no matter how trivial, or involved. We do suggest you bring something handheld though, as tabletop space will be limited.

DesignSpark LogoWe’ve rented the upper floor of the pub and ordered food and fine beverages for all who attend. This is possible thanks to the support of DesignSpark, the exclusive sponsor of the Hackaday UK Unconference.

Tickets for that event have been sold out for ages now, so we’re glad to host a meetup to involve more of the UK Hackaday community. There are still a few left for this Friday Meetup so claim your free ticket now!

UK To Register Multirotor fliers

The British government has shown a surprisingly light touch towards drone fliers in the face of the strident media demands for them to be banned following a series of reports of near-misses with other aircraft. That is about to change with reports of the announcement of a registration scheme for craft weighing over 250 g (about 9 oz). Details are still a bit sketchy, but it is reported that there will be a written test and an element of geofencing around sensitive locations.

Our friendly professional multirotor flier’s reaction is that the existing laws are clear enough, and that this is likely to be no deterrent to any people who already use their drones illegally. It seems that the UK government is following the lead set by the USA in this matter, with the 250 g limit on that side of the Atlantic having already spawned an industry of smaller craft. Time will tell on whether the measures will be effective, we suspect that their success will depend on their not being overly stringent.

[Editor’s note: Following a lawsuit, the US FAA registration requirement was struck down for hobbyists because model aircraft are explicitly excluded from the FAA’s purview. The Brits are not likely to be so lucky.]

If there is a positive side to this announcement, it might be that the 250 g class of multirotor will inevitably become the focus of a lot of attention as manufacturers and engineers work to pack the most performance into the small platform. This small silver lining to the drone registration cloud might not be much, but we’ll take it.

We’ve covered the UK drone story as reported in the media in detail in the past.

Palace of Westminster image: Diliff [CC BY-SA 2.5].