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Great British wind-up

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The British inventor Trevor Baylis, best known for his wind-up radio, celebrates his 75th birthday this Sunday. Baylis got the inspiration for his invention in 1989 after watching a television programme about the spread of AIDS across Africa. The spread of AIDS could be limited by educating people via radio broadcasts, but most had no electricity and could not afford batteries.

Baylis made his original prototype wind-up radio from a transistor radio, an electric motor from a toy car and the clockwork mechanism from a music box. It ran for 14 minutes on the power generated by a two-minute wind. Later models would run for an hour on a 25-second wind and included a solar panel.

Initially Baylis struggled to find a backer for his project. Only after his invention featured on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World in 1994 was he able to form Freeplay Energy to produce his Freeplay radios. The radios were manufactured initially in South Africa at a facility staffed by 250 disabled workers.

Baylis’s empathy with the disabled stemmed from his time working as a stunt man, when he saw fellow performers get injured or disabled. He worked as a sales representative for a swimming pool company, which led to performances as a high diving entertainer and later as an underwater escape artist at the Berlin Circus. Trevor Baylis Brands was formed in 2003 to help inventors protect their work and find routes to market.

Awards made in recognition of the inventor’s work include appointment as an officer of the Order of the British Empire, the presidential gold medal of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, honorary membership of the Confederation of British Industry, fellowship of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and Pipe Smoker of the Year 1999.

 

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