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Title:
ELECTRICAL COUPLING
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2021/024000
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An electrical coupling for a modular lighting system, the electrical coupling comprising a first connection member and a second connection member. The first connection member comprises a body and a plurality of sets of first conductors. The body defines a bore. The plurality of sets of first conductors is provided on an end surface of the bore. The second connection member comprising a body and a plurality of sets of second conductors. An end portion of the body for receipt within the bore of the first connection member such that an end surface of said end portion is adjacent to the end surface of the bore. The plurality of sets of second conductors is provided on said end surface of the second connection member. The plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors are arranged such that when the bore of the first connection member receives the end portion of the second connection member, each of the plurality of sets of first conductors contacts a corresponding one of the plurality of sets of second conductors independent of an orientation of the second connection member relative to the first connection member.

Inventors:
BANAK MARTIN (GB)
SINGH MANDIP (GB)
Application Number:
PCT/GB2020/051899
Publication Date:
February 11, 2021
Filing Date:
August 07, 2020
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
UBERGLOW UK LTD (GB)
International Classes:
H01R13/62; F21S2/00; H01R13/642; H01R13/66
Foreign References:
CN206989118U2018-02-09
US20160079701A12016-03-17
US20180087723A12018-03-29
US20120242213A12012-09-27
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MARKS & CLERK LLP (GB)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS:

1. An electrical coupling for a modular lighting system, the electrical coupling comprising: a first connection member comprising a body and a plurality of sets of first conductors, the body defining a bore, and wherein the plurality of sets of first conductors is provided on an end surface of the bore; a second connection member comprising a body and a plurality of sets of second conductors, an end portion of the body for receipt within the bore of the first connection member such that an end surface of said end portion is adjacent to the end surface of the bore, and wherein the plurality of sets of second conductors is provided on said end surface of the second connection member; wherein the plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors are arranged such that when the bore of the first connection member receives the end portion of the second connection member, each of the plurality of sets of first conductors contacts a corresponding one of the plurality of sets of second conductors independent of an orientation of the second connection member relative to the first connection member.

2. The coupling of claim 1, wherein the end portion of the second connection member is generally cylindrical and wherein the bore defined in the body of the first connection member is generally cylindrical.

3. The electrical coupling of any preceding claim, wherein one of the plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors comprises pins.

4. The electrical coupling of any preceding claim, wherein the one of the plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors comprises conductors that are movable in an axial direction and are biased away from a surface on which they are provided.

5. The electrical coupling of any preceding claim, wherein one of the plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors comprises a plurality of concentric annular members.

6. The electrical coupling of claim 5, wherein a radial position of at least one of the annular members corresponds with a radial position of at least one conductor of the other one of the first and second connection members.

7. The electrical coupling of any preceding claim, further comprising a biasing mechanism arranged to bias the end surface of the end portion of the second connection member towards the end surface of the bore of the first connection member.

8. The electrical coupling of claim 7, wherein the biasing mechanism comprises at least one magnet provided on one of the first connection member and/or the second connection member arranged to exert an attractive force on the other one of the first connection member and/or the second connection member.

9. The electrical coupling of claim 7 or claim 8, wherein the biasing mechanism comprises a first magnet and a second magnet, and wherein the first magnet is provided on the first connection member and the second magnet is provided on the end portion of the second connection member, the first and second magnets arranged so as to exert mutually attractive forces on each other when the end portion of the second connection member is received in the bore of the first connection member.

10. The electrical coupling of any preceding claim, wherein the first connection member and second connection member comprise complementary features that are configured to maintain the end portion of second connection member in the bore.

11. The electrical coupling of any preceding claim, wherein each of the plurality of sets of first conductors is at the same distance from the coupling axis as a corresponding one of the plurality of sets of second conductors.

12. An apparatus comprising a first connection member of the coupling any of claims 1 to 11.

13. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein the body of the first connection member defines a plurality of bores, each of the plurality of bores having a plurality of sets of first conductors provided on an end surface of the bore, each of the plurality of bores being for receipt of an end portion of the body of a second connection member of the coupling.

14. The apparatus of claim 12 or claim 13, wherein an electrical connection is provided between corresponding sets of first conductors in each of the plurality of bores.

15. An apparatus comprising a second connection member of the coupling any of claims 1 to 11.

16. The apparatus of claim 15, wherein the body of the second connection member defines a plurality of end portions, each of the end portions having a plurality of sets of second conductors provided on an end surface thereof, each of the plurality of end portions being for receipt in a bore of the body of a first connection member of the coupling.

17. The apparatus of claim 16, wherein an electrical connection is provided between corresponding sets of second conductors on the end surfaces of each of the plurality of end portions.

18. An illumination element comprising the apparatus of any one of claims 15 to 17.

19. The illumination element of claim 18, further comprising a light, said light comprising at least two connections, each of the at least two connections being in electrical communication with a different one of the plurality of sets of second conductors.

20. The illumination element of claim 19, wherein the light comprises an RGB light emitting diode.

21. A power supply unit comprising the apparatus of any one of claims 15 to 17 and further comprising a power source operable to control a voltage of each of the plurality of sets of second conductors.

22. A cable comprising the apparatus of any one of claims 15 to 17 and further comprising a plurality of wires, each of the wires in electrical contact with a different one of the plurality of sets of second conductors. 23. A modular lighting system comprising the coupling of any of claims 1 to 11.

24. The modular lighting system of claim 23 comprising: an apparatus according to claim 12; a power supply unit according to claim 21, the end portion of the second connection member of the power supply unit being received in the bore of the first connection member of the apparatus according to claim 12; and at least one illumination element according to claim 18, the end portion of the second connection member of the at least one illumination element being received in the bore of the first connection member of the apparatus according to claim 12.

25. The modular lighting system of claim 23 or claim 24, further comprising a receiver, a processor, and a controller, wherein the receiver is enabled to receive signals over a network and the processor is enabled to process said signals and wherein the controller is enabled to control the flow of electricity within the modular lighting system based on the processed signal.

Description:
Electrical coupling

Field of Invention

The present invention relates to an electrical coupling. The electrical coupling may have particular application in, and may be suitable for use in, a modular lighting system. The present invention also relates to a male connection member of an electrical coupling and to a female connection member of an electrical coupling. The present invention also relates to a modular lighting system.

Background

Modular systems provide the user with the freedom to configure and reconfigure the system to suit their needs. Modular systems are becoming increasingly popular with both consumers and businesses due to the versatility that is provided. Modular systems can be assembled and disassembled as the needs of the user change and can also be assembled to suit the needs of each user.

The simplicity and versatility of a modular system is highly dependent on the connections which form it. Modular systems which are versatile and simple to assemble are desirable because they save the time and effort of the user. Moreover, a user is more likely to disassemble and reassemble a modular system which includes simple to assemble and disassemble connections, allowing the user to easily adapt the modular system to suit their needs.

It is an object of the present invention to provide an electrical coupling (which may be for a modular lighting system) which at least partially addresses one or more problems associated with existing systems whether identified herein or otherwise. However, the present invention need not only be used as part of a modular lighting system but can be used in any suitable system. For example, the present invention may also be used in robotics and other electrical equipment.

Summary

According to a first aspect of the invention there is provided an electrical coupling for a modular lighting system, the electrical coupling comprising a first connection member comprising a body and a plurality of sets of first conductors, the body defining a bore, and wherein the plurality of sets of first conductors is provided on an end surface of the bore; a second connection member comprising a body and a plurality of sets of second conductors, an end portion of the body for receipt within the bore of the first connection member such that an end surface of said end portion is adjacent to the end surface of the bore, and wherein the plurality of sets of second conductors is provided on said end surface of the second connection member; wherein the plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors are arranged such that when the bore of the first connection member receives the end portion of the second connection member, each of the plurality of sets of first conductors contacts a corresponding one of the plurality of sets of second conductors independent of an orientation of the second connection member relative to the first connection member.

The electrical coupling according to the first aspect of the invention is a plug and socket type coupling. The first connection member may be referred to as a female member and the second connection member may be referred to as a male member. Since the first connection member comprises a plurality of sets of first conductors and the second connection member comprises a plurality of sets of second conductors, the electrical coupling according to the first aspect of the invention can provide a plurality of electrical connections. These connections are between each of the plurality of sets of first conductors and its corresponding one of the plurality of sets of second conductors. Furthermore, by virtue of the plurality of sets of first conductors may be located on the end surface of the bore of the first connection member and the plurality of sets of second conductors may be located on the end surface of the second connection member, the coupling is an end-to-end coupling. This is in contrast to prior art plug and socket type couplings wherein typically at least some of the electrical contacts are provided on the side walls of the male and female parts.

Advantageously, since each the plurality of sets of first conductors contacts a corresponding one of the plurality of sets of second conductors independent of an orientation of the second connection member relative to the first connection member, the coupling is easier to use. When assembling the coupling, the user does not need to consider the orientation of the second connection member relative to the first connection member. The user need only consider whether the second connection member is oriented such that the bore of the first connection member may receive the end portion of the first connection member. The user can then simply insert the end portion of the second connection member into the bore of the first connection member in order to bring the plurality of sets of first conductors into contact with the plurality of sets of second conductors, thereby forming the electrical circuits.

The bore in the first connection member may be defined by the end surface and at least one side surface.

It will be appreciated that, in general, the shape of the bore defined in the body of the first connection member may be complementary to the shape of the end portion of the second connection member.

The end portion of the second connection member may be generally cylindrical. The bore defined in the body of the first connection member may be generally cylindrical.

That is, in cross-section, the bore defined in the body of the first connection member and the end portion of the second connection member are both generally circular.

Since the end portion of the second connection member is generally cylindrical and the bore of the first connection member is generally cylindrical, a continuous range of orientations which allow the bore first connection member to receive the end portion of the second connection member is provided. Advantageously, this further improves the ease with which the coupling can be used since the end portion of the second connection member can be inserted into the bore defined in the body of the first connection member in any orientation. In addition, the second connection member and/or the first connection member may be rotated whilst the end portion of the second connection member is received in the bore of the first connection member.

It will be appreciated that in some alternative embodiments, the bore of the first connection member may be non-circular in cross-section. In general, the bore may be any suitable shape in cross-section that allows the end portion of the second connection member to be received in the bore of the first connection member in at least two different orientations (each of the first plurality of sets of conductors contacting the corresponding one of the second plurality of sets of conductors in any of said plurality of orientations). For example, in cross-section, the bore may elliptical or polygonal. For example, the bore may be triangular, quadrilateral, pentagonal or hexagonal in cross- section. It will also be appreciated if the bore is non-circular in cross-section, the independence of the orientation of the second connection member relative to the first connection member to allow the first plurality of sets of conductors to contact the corresponding one of the second plurality of sets of conductors means that the first plurality of sets of conductors contacts the corresponding one of the second plurality of sets of conductors in any of the finite number of discrete orientations in which the bore first connection member can receive the end portion of the second connection member. By way of example, the number of possible orientations which allow the bore of the first connection member to receive the end portion of the second connection member may be six in the case that the bore of the first connection member and the end portion of the second connection member are hexagonal in cross-section and, in all of these six possible orientations, the first plurality of sets of conductors contact the corresponding one of the second plurality of sets of conductors.

It will be appreciated that there may be the same number of sets of conductors in the first plurality of sets of conductors as in the second plurality of sets of conductors. By way of example, the first plurality of sets of conductors may comprise 8 sets of conductors and the second plurality of sets of conductors may comprise 8 sets of conductors. Furthermore, each set of conductors in the first plurality of sets of conductors corresponds to, and in use contacts, a different one of the set of conductors in the second plurality of sets of conductors.

One of the plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors may comprise pins.

For example, each set of the plurality of sets of first conductors may comprise one or more pins. Additionally or alternatively, each set of the plurality of sets of second conductors may comprise one or more pins

The one of the plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors may comprise conductors that can be movable in an axial direction and can be biased away from a surface on which they are provided.

For example, the plurality of sets of first conductors is provided on the end surface of the bore and each such first conductor may comprise a conductor (for example a pin) that is biased away from the end surface of the bore. Similarly, the plurality of sets of second conductors is provided on the end surface of the end portion of the second connection member and such second conductors may each comprise a conductor (for example a pin) that is biased away from said end surface of the end portion of the second connection member.

It will be appreciated that the conductors being movable in an axial direction and biased away from a surface on which they are provided may be referred to as an arrangement having spring-loaded conductors.

Since the spring-loaded conductors are movable and biased away from the surface on which they are provided, the spring-loaded conductors are able to maintain good electrical contact with the corresponding set of conductors (provided on the other one of the first and second connection members). Small axial movements of the first and/or second connection member will not result in the loss of electrical contact. In addition, because the axial position of the spring-loaded conductors is not fixed, the spring- loaded conductors are able to deflect when contacting the other of the plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors. This therefore reduces the force which the spring-loaded conductors exert on the other of the plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors (compared to if the conductors were rigid).

One of the plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors may comprise a plurality of concentric annular members.

Advantageously, the plurality of concentric annular members is rotationally symmetric about an axis that the plurality of concentric annular members is centred on. Therefore, advantageously, such an arrangement will ensure that the same connections are made irrespective of an orientation of the plurality of concentric annular members about said axis.

If, for example, the other of the one of the plurality of sets of first conductors and the plurality of sets of second conductors comprises a plurality of pins, it can be ensured that each of said pins contacts a corresponding one of the plurality of concentric annular conductors irrespective of an orientation of the plurality of concentric conductors since each said pin will remain at generally the same radial position with respect to the axis of rotation of the plurality of concentric annular conductors. In such embodiments, since one of the pluralities of first or second conductors is annular, the conductors which comprise pins are able to contact and therefore form a circuit with the annular conductors in any orientation in the azimuthal plane of the second connection member with respect to the first connection member.

A radial position of at least one of the annular members may correspond with a radial position of at least one conductor of the other one of the first and second connection members.

In one embodiment, the first connection member comprises eight sets of first conductors, each set comprising at least one spring-loaded conductor (for example a biased pin) at substantially the same radial position. The radial positions of different sets of first conductors are different. In such an embodiment, the second connection member may comprise eight sets of second conductors, each set comprising a single annular conductor having a radius that substantially matches a different one of the sets of first conductors.

In some embodiments, a radial position of at least one of the annular members may correspond with a radial position of at least two conductors (for example two spring- loaded conductors) of the other one of the first and second connection members. This allows multiple connections for at least some of the circuits. Advantageously, this can reduce the electrical load on any one pin in the coupling.

The electrical coupling may further comprise a biasing mechanism arranged to bias the end surface of the end portion of the second connection member towards the end surface of the bore of the first connection member.

Since the biasing mechanism is arranged to bias the end surface of the end portion of the second connection member towards the end surface of the bore of the first connection member, the connection between the first connection member and the second connection member is improved. The biasing mechanism therefore helps to retain the end portion of the second connection member within the bore of the first connection member at a position which allows each of the plurality of sets of second conductors to contact, and therefore form an electrical circuit with, the corresponding set from the plurality of sets of first conductors.

It will be appreciated that for embodiments comprising biased pins on one side of the coupling, the biasing mechanism is arranged to bias the end surface of the end portion of the second connection member towards the end surface of the bore of the first connection member with sufficient force to overcome the biasing of said pins.

The biasing mechanism may comprise at least one magnet provided on one of the first connection member and/or the second connection member. The at least one magnet may be arranged to exert an attractive force on the other one of the first connection member and/or the second connection member.

For example, one side of the coupling may be provided with a magnet and the other side may be provided with some magnetic material.

The biasing mechanism may comprise a first magnet and a second magnet. The first magnet may be provided on the first connection member. The second magnet may be provided on the end portion of the second connection member. The first and second magnets may be arranged so as to exert mutually attractive forces on each other when the end portion of the second connection member is received in the bore of the first connection member.

The biasing mechanism comprising a first magnet and a second magnet which are provided to a respective one of the first connection member and the second connection member advantageously provides a user friendly way to secure the end portion of the second connection member inside the bore of the first connection member. The user needs to simply insert the end portion of the second connection member in to the bore of the first connection member and the first magnet and the second magnet will be attracted to one another, thereby holding the end portion of the second connection member inside the bore of the first connection member. The user is not required to, for example, insert the end portion of the second connection member at a particular orientation with respect to the bore of the second portion and twist the second connection member, as with a bayonet mount. Such a biasing mechanism using magnets is therefore particularly compatible with the coupling according to the first aspect of the invention, which provided connections that are independent of an orientation of the second connection member relative to the first connection member.

Biasing mechanisms using one or more magnets may be less susceptible to wear than mechanical based biasing mechanisms or clips or the like.

Furthermore, biasing mechanism using magnets may be arranged to provide an even biasing of the two parts of the coupling (the first and second connection members) over the surface of the coupling (the end surfaces of the bore and the end portion respectively).

The first connection member and second connection member may comprise complementary features that are configured to maintain the end portion of second connection member in the bore.

For example, a clip-type feature may be provided on one side of the coupling (i.e. on one of the first connection member and second connection member) and may be arranged to grip a complementary feature on the other side of the coupling (i.e. on the other one of the first connection member and second connection member).

It will be appreciated that as used herein complementary features that are configured to maintain the end portion of second connection member in the bore is intended to mean features that are provided such that a minimum (axial) force should be applied to separate the first and second connection members.

The bore of the first connection member may define an axis of the first connection member and the end portion of the second connection member may define an axis of the second connection member. When the bore of the first connection member receives the end portion of the second connection member, the axes of the first and second connection members are coaxial, thereby defining a coupling axis. Therefore, when discussing features of the first or second connection members, any reference to the coupling axis will be understood to mean the coupling axis when the coupling is made or to the axis of the first or second connection members respectively when the connection is not made.

It will be appreciated that, unless stated to the contrary, as used herein axial is intended to mean a direction generally along an axis and radial is intended to mean a direction generally perpendicular to, and passing through, the coupling axis.

Each of the plurality of sets of first conductors may be at the same distance from the coupling axis as a corresponding one of the plurality of sets of second conductors.

According to a second aspect of the invention there is provided an apparatus comprising a first connection member of the coupling of the first aspect.

The body of the first connection member can define a plurality of bores. Each of the plurality of bores may have a plurality of sets of first conductors provided on an end surface of the bore. Each of the plurality of bores may be for receipt of an end portion of the body of a second connection member of the coupling.

It will be appreciated that such an apparatus is operable to receive a plurality of second connection members. Each of the bores and associated plurality of sets of first conductors may be of substantially the same form.

Such an apparatus may be referred to as a power distribution unit and may form part of a modular lighting system. For example, one or more illumination elements having a second connection member of the coupling according to the first aspect may be received in the plurality of bores. The apparatus according to the second aspect of the invention may connect such illumination elements together (for example in parallel) so as to form a junction of a lighting circuit. In addition, a power supply unit having a second connection member of the coupling according to the first aspect may be in electrical communication with one of the plurality of bores. The apparatus according to the second aspect of the invention may electrically communicate such a power supply unit to any illumination elements received in the other bores so as to control operation of a lighting circuit. An electrical connection may be provided between corresponding sets of first conductors in each of the plurality of bores.

According to a third aspect of the invention there is provided an apparatus comprising a second connection member of the first aspect of the invention.

The apparatus according to the third aspect of the invention may form part of a modular lighting system.

The body of the second connection member may define a plurality of end portions. Each of the end portions can have a plurality of sets of second conductors provided on an end surface thereof. Each of the plurality of end portions can be for receipt in a bore of the body of a first connection member of the coupling.

An electrical connection may be provided between corresponding sets of second conductors on the end surfaces of each of the plurality of end portions.

According to a fourth aspect of the invention there is provided an illumination element comprising the apparatus of the third aspect.

The illumination element according to the fourth aspect of the invention may form part of a modular lighting system. For example, the (or each) second connection member of the illumination element can be received in the bore of the first connection member of the electrical coupling according to the first aspect of the invention. This way, the illumination element can be controlled (for example, it may receive power via the plurality of sets of second conductors).

The illumination element may comprise a light. The light may comprise at least two connections. Each of the at least two connections may be in electrical communication with a different one of the plurality of sets of second conductors.

With such an arrangement, the light can be provided with power and illuminated via the plurality of sets of second conductors (and the corresponding conductors of the plurality of sets of first conductors). The light may comprise one or more light emitting diodes.

The second connection member may comprise a plurality of lights.

The light may comprise an RGB light emitting diode.

The illumination element may be elongate and may comprise two end portions and associated pluralities of sets of second conductors. Alternatively, the illumination element may comprise only one end portion.

According to a fifth aspect of the invention there is provided a power supply unit comprising the apparatus of the third aspect of the invention. The power supply unit further comprises a power source operable to control a voltage of each of the plurality of sets of second conductors.

The power supply unit according to the fifth aspect of the invention may be operable to supply power to a modular lighting system. For example, the second connection member of the power supply unit can be received in the bore of the first connection member of the electrical coupling according to the first aspect of the invention. This way, the power supply unit can supply power to the modular lighting system (for example, by controlling the voltages of each of the plurality of sets of second conductors).

According to a sixth aspect of the invention there is provided a cable comprising the apparatus of the third aspect of the invention. The cable further comprises a plurality of wires, each of the wires in electrical contact with a different one of the plurality of sets of second conductors.

The cable according to the sixth aspect of the invention may be operable to supply power to a modular lighting system. For example, the second connection member of the cable can be received in the bore of the first connection member of the electrical coupling according to the first aspect of the invention. The plurality of wires may be connected to a power supply unit that is operable to control the voltages of each of the plurality of wires (and, thereby, to control the voltages of each of the plurality of sets of second conductors). The second connection member may be provided at a first end of the cable. At a second, opposite end of the cable there may be provided another second connection member (which may connect to a power supply unit). Alternatively, the second opposite, end of the cable may be provided with a different type of coupling for connection to the power supply unit or may be hard-wired directly into the power supply unit.

According to a seventh aspect of the invention there is provided a modular lighting system comprising the coupling of the first aspect of the invention.

The modular lighting system may comprise an apparatus according to the second aspect of the invention. The modular lighting system may further comprise a power supply unit according to the fifth aspect of the invention. The end portion of the second connection member of the power supply unit may be received in the bore of the first connection member of the apparatus according to the second aspect of the invention. The modular lighting system may further comprise at least one illumination element according to the fourth aspect of the invention. The end portion of the second connection member of the at least one illumination element may be received in the bore of the first connection member of the apparatus according to the second aspect of the invention.

The modular lighting system may further comprise a cable according to the sixth aspect of the invention. The end portion of the second connection member of the cable may be received in the bore of the first connection member of the apparatus according to the second aspect of the invention.

The modular lighting system may further comprise a receiver, a processor, and a controller. The receiver may be enabled to receive signals over a network. The processor may be enabled to process said signals. The controller may be enabled to control the flow of electricity within the modular lighting system based on the processed signal.

The network may, for example, be a WiFi or Bluetooth network.

It will be appreciated that features described above with reference to one aspect of the invention may be combined with another aspect of the invention as appropriate. Brief Description of the Drawings

Embodiments of the present invention will now be described, by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings in which:

Figure 1 depicts a cross-sectional view of an electrical coupling in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 2 depicts a perspective view of a female connection member in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 3 depicts an exploded view of the female connection member of Figure 2;

Figure 4 depicts a perspective view of a male connection member in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 5 depicts an exploded view of the male connection member of Figure 4;

Figure 6 depicts a power distribution unit in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 7 depicts an illumination element in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 8 depicts a clip which can be implemented into the power distribution unit of Figure 6;

Figure 9 depicts a modular lighting system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention, the modular lighting system comprising a plurality of power distribution units of the type shown in Figure 6;

Figure 10 depicts a power supply cable in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 11 depicts another power distribution unit in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention; Figure 12 depicts a modular lighting system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention, the modular lighting system comprising a plurality of power distribution units of the type shown in Figure 11 ; and

Figure 13 depicts another power distribution unit in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.

Detailed Description

An electrical coupling 2 in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention is show in Figure 1. The electrical coupling 2 comprises a female connection member 4 and a male connection member 6. The female connection member 4 may be referred to as a first connection member and the male connection member 6 may be referred to as a second connection member. The electrical coupling also has a coupling axis 7.

The female connection member 4 is shown in Figure 2. The female connection member 4 comprises a body 9. The female connection member 4 further comprises a bore 8 which extends into the body 9 and which is defined by an end surface 10 and a side surface 12. The bore 8 is circular in cross-section. However, it will be appreciated that the bore 8 can be any suitable shape in cross-section. For example, in cross- section, the bore 8 may be elliptical or polygonal. For example, in cross-section, the bore 8 may be elliptical, triangular, quadrilateral, pentagonal, hexagonal or any other suitable shape. The coupling axis 7 extends perpendicular to the end surface 10 of the bore 8 and through the centre of area of the end surface. The bore 8 defines a first axis 5 and the side surface 12 extends parallel to the coupling axis 7 (i.e. perpendicular to the end surface 10). However, in other embodiments the side surface 12 can extend such that the inclusive angle between the end surface 10 and the side surface 12 is greater than 90 degrees so as to define a tapered bore.

Provided on the end surface 12 of the bore 8 is a plurality of pins 14. The plurality of pins 14 are spring loaded contact pins. That is to say, the pins 14 are able to move axially (for example, between two end positions). In addition, the pins 14 are provided with a bias directed away from the end surface 10 of the bore 8 (towards one of said end positions). The plurality of pins 14 are biased in a direction parallel to the coupling axis 7. It will be appreciated that in alternative embodiments the plurality of pins 14 may be any suitable conductor, for example the plurality of pins may be non-spring loaded pins. In further alternative embodiments, the plurality of pins 14 can be replaced with a plurality of leaf springs which extend from the end surface 12 of the bore 8. In general, a plurality of conductors is provided on the end surface 12 of the bore 8. In general, said conductors may comprise any material that has electrically conductive properties and has some form of spring-based functionality design in to it. Other examples include a stamped spring piece or individual soldered spring connectors. Suitable conductive materials include, for example, beryllium copper.

The plurality of pins 14 are distributed on the end surface 12 of the bore 8. The pins 14 are spaced radially apart from the coupling axis 7 in eight discrete radial increments thereby defining eight pin sets 15. Each pin set 15 comprises at least two pins 14. However, in alternative embodiments, each pin set 15 may comprise at least one pin

14. Advantageously, by providing multiple pins 14 per pin set 15, each pin carries less current, which extends the lifetime of the pins. Each of the pins 14 of a given pin set 15 are at the same radial distance from the first axis 5. Each pin set 15 is located at a different radial distance from the first axis 5 than the other pin sets 15. The radial location of each pin set 15 is shown in the figures as a dash-dot line. It will be appreciated that in alternative embodiments there need not be eight pin sets 15. However, the end surface 12 of the bore 8 should be provided with at least two pin sets

15. The separation between each of the pin sets 15 is uniform. It will be appreciated that the radial separation between the pin sets 15 may be non-uniform. Each pin 14 of a pin set 15 resides on an annulus (or ring) centred on the axis 5 (shown by dashed lines in Figure 2). The pin sets 15 need not reside on an annulus. The pin sets 15 can reside on any suitable shape. The shape on which the pin sets 15 reside can correspond to the cross-sectional shape of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4. However, shape on which the pin sets 15 reside does not need to correspond to the cross-sectional shape of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4. For example, the cross-sectional shape of the bore 8 could be hexagonal and the pins sets 15 could reside on an annulus. In any case, the centre of area of each of the pin sets 15 may be coincident with the first axis 5. The pin sets 15 located furthest away from the first axis 5 may in use carry more current than the pin sets located closest to the first axis. Figure 3 shows an exploded view of the female connection member 4 (the body 9 is not shown for ease of understanding). In addition to the plurality of pins 14, the female connection member 4 further comprises a magnet 16, a cover plate 18 and a first printed circuit board (PCB) 20. Two views of the first PCB 20 are shown in Figure 3. The magnet 16 is annular. The magnet 16 is provided so as to provide a biasing effect to the electrical coupling 2, as will be discussed in more detail below.

The first PCB 20 comprises a front surface 21 and a rear surface 23. The plurality of pins 14 protrude from the front surface 21 of the first PCB 20. The first PCB 20 is provided with a plurality of plated through holes 22. The number of plated through holes 22 corresponds with the number of pin sets 15. The first PCB 20 further comprises a plurality of bores 17. The bores 17 are blind bores. The bores 17 receive the plurality of pins 14 via an interference fit. However, it will be appreciated that the bores 17 may receive the plurality of pins 14 by any suitable method. For example, the pins 14 may be soldered into the bores 17. Each pin set 15 is in electrical communication with a track 19. Each such track 19 provides an electrical connection between all of the pins 14 in a given pin set 15. Each track 19 is in electrical communication with a respective plated through hole 22. The tracks 19 are arcuate.

On the rear surface 23 of the PCB 20, each of the plated through holes 22 are in electrical communication with a corresponding track 25. Each track 25 is provided with at least two bores 29. Each bore 29 is provided with a receptacle 24. The receptacles 24 may receive a pin of the like for communicating an electrical source and/or communication signal to the pins 14 via the first PCB 20. In alternative embodiments, an electrically conductive plate could be received on the rear surface 23 of the first PCB 20. This would allow components to be surface mounted, e.g. via soldering, to the plate.

The cover plate 18 is provided so as to protect the first PCB 20 from damage which may be caused by, for example, impact to the female connection member 4. However, the cover plate 18 need not be provided. The cover plate 18 comprises a plurality of bores 26. The bores 26 extend axially through the cover plate 18. The position of each of the bores 26 corresponds with the position of a respective one of the plurality of pins 14. The cover plate may be formed from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic, or any other suitable non-electrically conductive material. The male connection member 6 is shown in Figure 4. The male connection member 6 comprises a body comprising an end portion 30 (only the end portion is shown in Figure 4) and a magnet 32. The end portion defines an end surface 28 and a second axis 27. The end portion 30 of the male member 6 is circular in cross-section. However, it will be appreciated that the cross-sectional shape of the end portion 30 may in general correspond with the cross-sectional shape of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4. The polarity of the magnet 32 is opposite to that of the magnet 16.

The end surface 28 is defined partially by the front surface 31 of a second printed circuit board (PCB) 33 and partially by an outer face 35 of the magnet 32. The second PCB 33 is provided with a plurality of conductors 34. The conductors 34 are annular. The conductors 34 are concentric with one another. The conductors 34 are centred on the second axis 27. The outside radius of each of the conductors 34 increases from the smallest to the largest in equal increments. The radii of each of the conductors 34 corresponds with the radii of the pin sets 15 of the female connection member 4. Therefore, it will be appreciated that the spacing between the conductors 34 need not be equal. As noted above, the pin sets 15 do not need to be annular, and so the plurality of conductors 34 are also not necessarily annular. The shape of the plurality of conductors 34 may correspond with the shape of the respective pin set 15.

An exploded view of the male connection member 6 is shown in Figure 5 (again, the body is not shown in the Figure for ease of understanding). The magnet 32 is annular. The shape and size of the inside surface 36 of the magnet 32 generally correspond with the shape and size of the periphery 38 of the second PCB 33. As such, when assembled, the second PCB 33 is received within the magnet 32. Therefore, the magnet 32 need not be annular. For example, if the periphery of the second PCB 33 is triangular, then the inside surface 36 of the magnet 32 may also be triangular. Two views of the second PCB 33 are shown in Figure 5.

The second PCB 33 is provided with a plurality of plated through holes 40. Each conductor 34 is provided with three plated through holes 40. However, each conductor 34 may be provided with any suitable number of plated through holes 40. The plated through holes 40 are in electrical communication with the corresponding conductor 34. The plated through holes 40 extend axially from the front surface 31 of the second PCB 33 to a rear surface 42 of the second PCB. Each of the plated through holes 40 are in electrical communication with at least two corresponding blind bores 41 which extend into the rear surface 42 of the second PCB 33. Each of the blind bores 41 receives a corresponding receptacle 44. In use, each receptacle may receive a pin (not shown) for transmitting an electrical source and/or communication signal to a desired component (not shown). The desired component may be, for example, an RGB circuit (not shown). RGB circuits have four pins in total. Three of the four pins are provided to energise the LEDs and the remaining pin is a common ground pin provided to return the current.

In some embodiments, there is provided a power distribution unit comprising a common body provided with plurality of female connection members 4 of the type described above with reference to Figures 2 and 3. An example of such a power distribution unit is described below with reference to Figure 6.

In some embodiments, the power distribution unit comprises at least three female connection members 4. Advantageously, this can allow for a greater flexibility of a modular illumination system incorporating the power distribution unit, allowing for a greater range of structures to be formed using the power distribution unit.

In some embodiments, the power distribution unit comprises at least two female connection members 4 provided on the common body such that the first axes 5 defined by the bores 8 of the at least two female connection members 4 are neither parallel nor antiparallel. That is, in such embodiments the first axes 5 of the at least two female connection members 4 are disposed at a non-zero angle to each other. For example, the first axes 5 of the at least two female connection members 4 may be disposed at an oblique angle to each other. Advantageously, this can allow for a greater flexibility of a modular illumination system incorporating the power distribution unit, allowing for a greater range of structures to be formed using the power distribution unit. For example, it facilitates the formation of three-dimensional structures rather than merely facilitating a linear connection between two male connection members 6.

In some embodiments, the power distribution unit comprises two articulated body members, each articulated body section provided with a least one female connection member 4. Since the two body members are articulated, that is connected by a flexible joint, by moving the two body sections relative to each other, an angle between the first axes 5 defined by the bores 8 of the at least two female connection members 4 can be controlled. Advantageously, this can allow for a greater flexibility of a modular illumination system incorporating the power distribution unit, allowing for a greater range of structures to be formed using the power distribution unit. The two articulated body members may be connected to each other via a hinged connection. Alternatively, the two body members may each be connected to one or more intermediate bodies member via a hinged connection.

Figure 6 depicts a power distribution unit 46. The power distribution unit 46 comprises a common body 47. The common body 47 comprises a plurality of bores 8. The end surface 10 of each bore 8 comprises a plurality of pins 14. Each of the bores 8 may therefore be considered to define a female connection member 4 of the type described above with reference to Figures 2 and 3. The power distribution unit 46 comprises a plurality of female connection members 4. In particular, the power distribution unit 46 shown in Figure 6 comprises five female connection members 4.

The female connection members 4 may be distributed about the power distribution unit 46 as desired. In the example the power distribution unit 46 shown in Figure 6, five female connection members 4 are distributed over one hemi-sphere of the generally spherical common body 47. In particular, the five female connection members 4 are distributed evenly about an axis that is perpendicular to a plane that separates said hemi-sphere of the generally spherical common body 47 from another hemi-sphere of the common body 47. In particular, the first axes 5 of adjacent pairs of female connection members 4 are disposed at 60° to each other. As explained further below with reference to Figure 9, a plurality of power distribution units of the type shown in Figure 6 may be used in combination with elongate illumination elements to form a modular illumination system. Since the first axes 5 of adjacent pairs of female connection members 4 are disposed at 60° to each other, as can be seen in Figure 9, such a modular illumination system can be used to form structures formed by a plurality of equilateral triangles.

Corresponding sets of pin sets 15 of each of the female connection members 4 are in electrical communication. This allows all of the pins sets 15 corresponding to an energised pin set to also be energised. The net shape of the power distribution unit 46 is spherical. Where ‘net shape’ refers to the shape of the power distribution unit 46 before it has been provided with the bores 8 for the female connection member 4. However, the power distribution unit 46 can be any suitable shape. For example, the net shape of the power distribution unit 46 could be a cube or a square-based pyramid.

In order for corresponding sets of pin sets 15 of each of the female connection members 4 to be in electrical communication, electrical wires may be provided within the common body 47 to facilitate this electrical communication. Said wires may connect to the tracks 25 on the rear surface 23 of the PCB 20. For example, the wires may comprise pins or the like which are received in, and engage with, the receptacles 24 provided in the bores 29 of the tracks 25. Since each track is provided with at least two bores 29, each track 25 can be connected to corresponding tracks in two adjacent female connection members 4. This may allow all of the corresponding tracks 25 (and therefore all of the corresponding sets of pin sets 15) to be connected together, for example in a daisy chain arrangement. Therefore, the particular structure of the above-described female connection members 4, and in particular the arrangement on the rear surface 23 of the PCB 20, may be considered to facilitate the connection of three of more female connection members 4 on the power distribution unit. In turn, as explained above, this allows for a greater flexibility of a modular illumination system incorporating the power distribution unit 46, allowing for a greater range of structures to be formed using the power distribution unit 46.

Figure 7 shows an illumination element 48. The illumination element 48 comprises a common body 49. The common body 49 comprises two end portions 30. Each end portion 30 is provided with a plurality of conductors 34. The conductors 34 are annular. The common body 49 therefore defines two male connection members 6 of the type described above with reference to Figures 4 and 5. That is to say, the illumination element 48 can be received by two female connection members 4. Specifically, each end portion 30 of the illumination element 48 may be received by a female connection member 4. The illumination element 48 is cylindrical. However, the illumination element may be any suitable shape. For example, the illumination element 48 may be T- shaped, in which case the illumination element would define three male connection members 6. The illumination element 48 is of constant diameter. However, the illumination element 48 need not be of constant diameter. However, the end portions 30 of the male connection members 6 of the illumination element 48 may be sized and shaped so as to be received by the bore 8 of the female connection member 4. Corresponding conductors 34 of each male connection member 6 are in electrical communication. This allows all of the conductors 34 corresponding to an energised conductor to also be energised.

It will be appreciated that the power distribution unit 46 may comprise the male connection members 6 and the illumination element 48 may comprise the female connection members 4. In such an embodiment, the male connection members 6 may protrude from the power distribution unit 46, and the female connection 4 members may extend into the end surfaces 28 of the illumination element 48.

In use, the female connection members 4 of the power distribution unit 46 may receive the end portions 30 of male connection members 6. In order to insert a male connection member 6 into a female connection member 4, the user should first orientate the second axis 27 of the male connection member 6 such that it is generally coaxial with the first axis 5 of the female connection member, thereby defining the coupling axis 7. Once this has been achieved, the user should then advance the male connection member 6 axially towards the end surface 10 of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4. Once the end surface 28 of the male connection member 6 is in proximity with the end surface 10 of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4, the magnets 16, 32 will be attracted to one another which will draw the male connection member towards the female connection member. The end surface 28 of the male connection member 6 will then be adjacent to the end surface 10 of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4. The magnets 16, 32 will hold the male connection member 6 inside the female connection member 4. Once the end surface 28 of the male connection member 6 is adjacent to the end surface 10 of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4, the pins 14 contact corresponding conductors 34, thereby forming a plurality of electrical circuits. In particular, each pin set 15 contacts a different one of the conductor 34. For example, the radially innermost pin set 15 will contact the radially innermost conductor 34 and so on.

As noted above, the bore 8 of the female connection member 4 and the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6 are circular in cross-section. In addition, the pin sets 15 and the conductors 34 are circular. Therefore, the user does not need to consider the orientation of the male connection member 6 when inserting the male connection member into the female connection member 4 in order to bring the pins 14 into contact with the conductors 34.

The pins 14 may be referred to as first conductors and the conductors 34 may be referred to as second conductors. In embodiments of the present invention, the plurality of sets 15 of pins 14 and the plurality of conductors 34 are arranged such that when the bore 8 of the female connection member 4 receives the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6, each of the plurality of sets 15 of pins 14 contacts a corresponding one of the plurality of conductors 34 independent of an orientation of the male connection member 6 relative to the female connection member 4. This applies even if the bore 8 of the female connection member 4 and the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6 are non-circular in cross-section. The bore 8 of the female connection member 4, the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6, the pin sets 15 and the conductors 34 may have an equal order of rotational symmetry. This includes circles, which have an infinite order of rotational symmetry. The cross- sectional shapes of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4 and the pin sets 15, and the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6 and the conductors 34 may be the same. If the conductors 34 are annular, they will form an electrical connection with corresponding pin sets 15 independent of the orientation of the male connection member 6 with respect to the female connection member 4, provided that the first axis 5 is coaxial with the second axis 27. This is true regardless of the cross-sectional shape of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4 and of the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6. If the shape and orientation of the conductors 34 and the pin sets 15 correspond with the shape and orientation of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4 and of the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6, the conductors 34 will form an electrical connection with corresponding pin sets 15 independent of the orientation of the male connection member 6 with respect to the female connection member, provided that the first axis 5 is coaxial with the second axis 27. Therefore, the pins 14 will come into contact with the corresponding conductors 34 independent of the orientation of the male connection member 6 with respect to the female connection member 4 about the coupling axis 7. It will be appreciated that in a configuration wherein the bore 8 of the female connection member 4 is hexagonal in cross-section and the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6 is also hexagonal in cross-section, the user would need to choose one of six possible orientations such that the bore 8 of the female connection member 4 can receive the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6. However, all of the possible orientations will result in the sets 15 of the pins 14 coming into contact with its corresponding conductor 34 (and of any of the other conductors 34).

Although the magnets 16, 32 were described above as being annular, in other embodiments they may have different shapes. In an alternative embodiment, the singular annular magnet 16 of the female connection member 4 could be replaced with a plurality of magnets which are distributed about the outside region of the end surface 10 of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4. In such an embodiment, the singular annular magnet 32 of the male connection member 6 could also be replaced with a plurality of magnets which are distributed about the outside region of the end surface 28 of the male connection member 6 (in positions which may correspond to the positions of the magnets 16 of the female connection member 4). Said plurality of magnets would have opposite polarity to the plurality of magnets of the female connection member. In a further alternative embodiment, only one of the female connection member 4 and the male connection member 6 is provided with a magnet. In this embodiment, the surface opposing the magnet on the other one of the female connection member 4 and male connection member 6 may be magnetic.

In addition, the magnets 16, 32 need not be provided. Instead, the female connection member 4 may receive the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6 via an interference fit. In which case, the user would simply insert the male connection member 6 into the female connection member 4 in order to form a coupling.

Referring again to Figure 1, the assembled coupling 2 is shown. As can be seen in the figure, the male connection member 6 has been fully received by the female connection member 4. The magnets 16, 32 are adjacent to each other and hold the position of the male connection member 6 with respect to the female connection member 4. Therefore, the conductors 34 are maintained in contact with the pins 14, which cannot be seen in Figure 1.

The assembly of the female connection member 4 will now be discussed with reference to Figure 1 and Figure 2. The end surface 10 of the bore 8 is defined partially by the cover 18 and partially by the magnet 16. However, in embodiments where the cover 18 and/or magnet 16 are not provided to the female connection member 4, the end surface 10 of the bore 8 is defined by the front face 21 of the first PCB 20. However, the bore 8 is a counter bore having two steps. The bore 8 extends further into the body 9 of the female connection member 4 (e.g. in order to provide access to the receptacles 24), as can be seen in Figure 1. The bore 8 comprises a first annular shoulder 50 and a second annular shoulder 52. The first annular shoulder 50 is located axially deeper than the second annular shoulder 52. The outer diameter of the first annular shoulder 50 generally corresponds with the outside diameter of the first PCB 20. Similarly, the outer diameter of the second annular shoulder 52 generally corresponds with the outside diameter of the magnet 16. The side surface 12 of the bore 8 may comprise threading (not shown) in the region adjacent to the second annular shoulder 52.

The first PCB 20 is inserted into the bore 8 until at least part of the rear surface 23 abuts the first annular shoulder 50. The magnet 16 is then inserted into the bore 8 until it abuts the second annular shoulder 52. The first PCB 20 and the magnet 16 can be fixed to their respective annular shoulder 50, 52 by virtue of an adhesive. In an alternative, non-depicted, embodiment, the female connection member 4 may be provided with an annular sleeve. The tubular sleeve is positioned between the periphery of the first PCB 20 and the inner surface of the magnet 16. The tubular sleeve can be fixed to the first PCB 20 and to the body 9 of the female connection member 4 by virtue of an adhesive. Alternatively, the sleeve can be threaded to the first PCB 20 and to the body 9 of the female connection member 4. The tubular sleeve may comprise an annular flange. Therefore, the tubular sleeve may be L-shaped in radial cross section. The annular flange may extend radially outwards, generally parallel to the end surface 10 of the female connection member 4. When assembled, the annular flange is located axially adjacent to the front surface 57 of the magnet 16. The annular flange therefore retains the axial position of the magnet 16. It will be appreciated that for such embodiments comprising a tubular sleeve, the magnet 16 will be inserted into the bore 8 before the first PCB 20 (with attached tubular sleeve).

The assembly of the male connection member 6 will now be discussed with reference to Figure 1 and Figure 4. The male connection member 6 comprises a bore 54 in the body 49. The bore 54 is a counter bore and defines an annular shoulder 56. The bore 54 comprises a side surface 55. The outer diameter of the annular shoulder 56 generally corresponds with the outside diameter of the second PCB 33. The second PCB 33 is inserted into the bore 54 until the rear surface 42 abuts the annular shoulder 56. The magnet 32 of the male connection member 6 can then be positioned such that it abuts the end of the body 49 of the illumination element 48. The second PCB 33 and the magnet 32 may be secured in place by adhering them to the body 49 of the illumination element 48 with an adhesive. In an alternative, non- depicted, embodiment, a tubular sleeve may be provided. The second PCB 33 may be adhered to, or threaded to the inside surface of the tubular sleeve. The tubular sleeve may comprise an annular flange. Therefore, the tubular sleeve may be L-shaped in radial cross-section. The annular flange may extend radially outwards, generally parallel to the front surface 31 of the second PCB 33 such that the annular flange is axially adjacent to the outer face 35 of the magnet 32. Therefore, the annular flange retains the axial position of the magnet 32. The tubular sleeve may be threaded or adhered to the body 49 of the illumination element 48.

Alternative to the magnets 16, 32, the female connection member 4 could be provided with a clip 58 which grips the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6. The clip 58 is shown in Figure 8. The clip 58 is annular. The clip 58 comprises two ends 62, 64. The ends 62, 64 each comprise a portion which protrudes radially from the clip 58 and each such portion comprises a respective aperture 66, 68. At least one of the apertures 66, 68 is threaded. The clip 58 may be in the form of a clamping shaft collar. At least part of the clip 58 is provided with axial threads 60. The axial threads 60 are received by the threads of the side surface 12 of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4. At least part of the clip 58 protrudes out of the bore 8 of the female connection member 4.

When using the clip 58, the end portion 30 of the male connection member 6 is inserted into the clip, a fastener (not shown) is then inserted into the apertures 66, 68 and is used to draw the ends 62, 64 of the clip 58 circumferentially together. It will be appreciated that when the clip 58 is used, the male connection member 6 need not be provided with the magnet 32. Instead, the male connection member 6 may be provided with a cover (not shown) which is identical in dimensions to the magnet 32 but is not magnetic. A modular illumination system 70 is shown in Figure 9. The modular illumination 70 system comprises a plurality of power distribution units 46 and a plurality of illumination elements 48. As can be seen in the figure, the power distribution units 46 are generally of the type shown in Figure 6 and are each provided with five female connection members 4. It will be appreciated that the power distribution units 46 may be provided with any suitable number of female connection members 4. The illumination elements 48 are all of the same length. However, it will be appreciated that the illumination system may be provided with illumination elements 48 of a variety of lengths. One of the power distribution units 46 is provided with an additional female connection member to which is coupled a power supply cable 72.

The power supply cable 72 is shown in Figure 10. The power supply cable 72 comprises two heads 74 and a wire section 76. The power supply cable 72 may comprise any number of heads 74 which is greater than two. Each of the heads 74 comprise a male connection member 6 of the type described above with reference to Figures 4 and 5. At least one of the male connection members 6 of the power supply cable 72 may be in electrical contact with one of the female connection members 4 of a power distribution unit 46. The power supply cable 72 further comprises a plurality of wires (not visible) which are in electrical communication with a corresponding one of the conductors 34 of each of the male connection members 6 of the power supply cable 72.

A power supply unit may be in communication with a control unit (not shown). At least one of the male connection members 6 of the power supply cable 72 may be in electrical communication with the power supply unit. The control unit may comprise a receiver, a processor and a controller. The receiver is provided to receive a signal via, for example, a WiFi or Bluetooth network. The processor then processes said signal in order to provide the controller with an instructing signal. The controller then controls the power supply unit to control the voltage of each of the illumination elements 48, thereby controlling the illumination of the illumination elements 48. It will be appreciated that the modularity of the modular illumination system 70 provides a multitude of possible configurations and applications of the system. These include, but are not limited to, domestic or commercial lighting, ornaments, toys, structures such as shelving, sculptures and the like. In addition, it would be possible for at least some of the illumination elements 48 to be replaced with elements which do not illuminate. In an alternative, non-depicted, embodiment, each of the illumination elements 48 may be provided with a power storage unit, e.g. a battery, which can receive power from the power supply unit. The power storage units may store power received from the power supply unit when the male connection members 6 of the power supply cable 72 is in electrical contact with the power supply unit and with one of the female connection members 4 of a power distribution unit 46. When the power supply cable 72 are subsequently disconnected from the female connection member 4 of the power distribution unit 46 the batteries can provide the modular lighting system 70 with power.

In a further, non-depicted embodiment, each illumination element 48 may be provided with a control unit. This therefore allows the voltage passing through each illumination element 48 to be controlled independently.

Although one example of a power distribution unit 46 is shown in Figures 6 and 9, it will be appreciated that in alternative embodiments the female connection members 4 may be distributed about a body of the power distribution unit in various different ways.

For example in an alternative embodiment, the power distribution unit may comprise six female connection members 4. The six female connection members 4 may be arranged in three pairs, such that the first axes 5 defined by the bores 8 of the female connection members 4 in each pair are parallel, and such that the first axes 5 defined by the bores 8 of the female connection members 4 from different pairs are mutually perpendicular. Such an arrangement may allow a generally cuboidal structure to be formed and/or a rectilinear structure to be formed.

Such an alternative power distribution unit 78 is shown in Figures 11 and 12.

The power distribution unit 78 is generally of the form of the power distribution unit 46 shown in Figure 6 and, in particular, also comprises a common body 80. Furthermore, the common body 80 is also provided with a plurality of a female connection members 4 of the type described above with reference to Figures 2 and 3. The power distribution unit 78 differs from the power distribution unit 46 shown in Figure 6 in the distribution of female connection members 4 over the common body 80. The power distribution unit 78 is shown in Figure 11, in which only one of the female connection members 4 from each of the three pairs of female connection members 4 can be seen. It will be appreciated that there is a corresponding female connection member 4 for each of the three female connection members 4 shown in Figure 11 on an opposite side of the common body 80 (as evidenced from Figure 12). The three first axes 5 defined by the bores 8 of the three female connection members 4 shown in Figure 11 are from different pairs and are mutually perpendicular.

Another example modular illumination system 82 is shown in Figure 12. The modular illumination system 82 in Figure 12 comprises a plurality of power distribution units 78 of the type shown in Figure 11 and a plurality of illumination elements 48. In Figure 12, the illumination elements 48 are all of the same length. However, it will be appreciated that the illumination system may be provided with illumination elements 48 of a variety of lengths. One of the female connection members 4 of one of the power distribution units 82 may be coupled a power supply cable 72 of the type described above (not shown in Figure 12). Since the first axes 5 defined by the bores 8 of the three different pairs of female connection members 4 are mutually perpendicular, the modular illumination system 82 using the power distribution units 78 of the type shown in Figure 11 can be used to form structures formed by a plurality of squares and/or rectangles. Such an arrangement may allow a generally cuboidal structure to be formed and/or a rectilinear structure to be formed using the modular illumination 82. Such an arrangement may, for example, be used to form part of an illuminated shelving unit.

Figure 13 shows another embodiment of a power distribution unit 84. The power distribution unit 84 comprises two articulated body members 86. Each of the body members 86 is generally cylindrical having a first end and a second end. Each of the body members 86 is provided with a female connection member 4 at its first end. The power distribution unit 84 further comprises two intermediate body members 88. Each of the two intermediate body members 88 is elongate and extends between the second ends of the two body members 86. Each end of each intermediate body member 88 is connected to a second end of one of the body members 86 via a hinged connection 90. A flexible tube 92 extends between the two body members 86. The flexible tube 92 may contain, and protect from damage, wires which may connect corresponding sets of pin sets 15 of each of the female connection members 4 of the power distribution unit 84. Since the two body members 86 are articulated, that is connected by a flexible joint, by moving the two body sections 86 relative to each other, an angle between the first axes 5 defined by the bores 8 of the two female connection members 4 can be controlled. Advantageously, this can allow for a greater flexibility of a modular illumination system incorporating the power distribution unit 84, allowing for a greater range of structures to be formed using the power distribution unit 84.

Although the example modular illumination system 70 shown in Figure 9 only uses power distribution units 46 of the type shown in Figure 6 and the example modular illumination system 82 shown in Figure 12 only uses power distribution units 78 of the type shown in Figure 11 it will be appreciated that, in general, a modular illumination system according to an embodiment of the invention may comprise any combination of the various power distribution units 46, 78, 84 described above or variants thereof.

Although the electrical coupling 2 of the present invention has been described in respect of a modular lighting system 70, it will be appreciated that the electrical coupling is also suitable for use in other systems. The receptacles 44 of the male connection member 6 can receive a component to which electrical power is to be supplied. Therefore, the electrical coupling 2 is suitable for use in any electrical systems such as electromechanical systems, e.g. robotic systems. These systems may be modular or non-modular. It will be appreciated that in such alternative embodiments the conductors of the male and female members may be connected to any circuits as desired for the given application.

While specific embodiments of the invention have been described above, it will be appreciated that the invention may be practiced otherwise than as described. The descriptions above are intended to be illustrative, not limiting. Thus it will be apparent to one skilled in the art that modifications may be made to the invention as described without departing from the scope of the claims set out below.