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Wind-up radio

putting clockwork to powerful uses London,

Trevor Baylis holding a rectangular, black radio. Other radios are in the background.
Trevor Baylis, English inventor, August 1998 holding the first experimental machine. Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

In 1991, Trevor Baylis (born 1937) saw a television programme about the spread of AIDS in Africa, highlighting the desperate need to communicate information about the disease, to the people at risk. There were many barriers to communicating with isolated African communities however, not least the fact that many areas did not have mains electricity, and the batteries required for conventional radios were unaffordable. Inspired by this challenge, he set about developing the wind-up radio.  

This small device can be powered by hand, when the user winds a crank on the outside of the radio. The energy is stored in a spring, which in turn drives an electrical generator, operating the radio receiver. This means that there is no need for batteries or electricity, making the radio extremely useful in these communities. 

The first working prototype ran for 14 minutes. Although initially Baylis struggled to attract external investment in 1994, BBC programme ‘Tomorrow’s World’ ran a story about the invention, and investment interest significantly increased. The following year, he set up a company in Cape Town, South Africa, employing disabled workers to manufacture the Freeplay Wind Up Radio.

British Science Association

Key Individuals
Trevor Baylis,