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Clockwork Radio

Just like clockwork: A history of clockwork radio

Trevor Baylis died on the 5th of March 2018.

However, in his eighty years of life, Baylis achieved some incredible things, including the invention of hundreds of new devices, designed to make the world a better place.

Although Baylis left his London school at age 15 without a qualification to his name, he went on to live a fascinating and exciting life. Not only did he act as a physical training instructor and engineer, but he was also a stuntman, a would-be Olympic swimmer, and by age 45, a full-time inventor.

Many of Baylis’s inventions were inspired by his time as a stuntman. Throughout the years, he made many friends that suffered from life-changing injuries and ailments. As a result, Baylis was a highly generous person, committed to changing the world by tackling one disability at a time.

By the time of his death, Baylis had conceived more than 200 devices intended to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

Today, we’re going to look at one of the amazing inventions that Baylis brought to the world – the clockwork radio.

Here’s the story of the clockwork radio, and why it’s still valuable today.

What a windup: What is clockwork radio?

Mechanical clocks have been around since the 1300s.

In the days before commercial electricity, wind-up technology was the only way to start a car or use much of the technology that people relied on each day.

However, while we have far more efficient ways to access power today, there’s still a place for wind-up technology in the quest for a sustainable planet.

The clockwork radio inventor, Trevor Baylis originally saw the benefits of developing wind-up technology as a solution for third-world countries. After all, while western countries like the UK and US have plenty of access to free-flowing electricity, all parts of the world aren’t quite as lucky.

In most parts of the western world, we all assume that we’ll have access to electricity wherever we go. This means that we have endless access to various forms of information. You can communicate with people through your smartphone, listen to the radio at home or in your car, or even log into the internet. However, not everyone in the world is quite so fortunate.

There are countless parts of the globe that remain “unconnected.” These environments aren’t dialled into the grid of electrical power that gives us access to the crucial information we need.

In 1991, the Trevor Baylis clockwork radio came about as a direct response to the growing AIDS epidemic in third-world countries. Baylis believed that by giving people an easy way to transmit vital information about the disease, he could help to save hundreds or even thousands of lives.

The first clockwork radio was a wind-up device operated by a coiled spring responsible for powering a generator through a series of gears. After 30 seconds of winding, the clockwork radio would work for up to 14 minutes. The Freeplay Energy radio was commercialised in 1996. Baylis also went on to create a host of other sustainable tools too, such as AC/DC adapters, solar-power devices and more.

Clockwork Radio

Why bother with radio?

When you begin to explore clockwork radio and how it works, you might find yourself wondering why radio was the most efficient way to convey information in the first place. After all, at the time clockwork radio inventor, Trevor Baylis started designing the Freeplay range, other options were available, such as television, and newspapers.

Simply put, radio was the most convenient and least expensive way to keep people connected around the world. Mail and newspaper didn’t make sense for third-world companies, considering how sparse the communities in some countries can be. In a place where fuel and cars are rare, it would be incredibly challenging to deliver written content. Even with unlimited travel available, many of the people given newspapers in third-world countries wouldn’t have had the chance to learn how to read.

On the other hand, television costs far more to broadcast than radio. Remember, with TVS, you’re not just sending audio signals, but pictures too. Running television studies requires more planning, staff, and equipment than a standard radio station. Additionally, television sets would need to be supplied to villages, and these devices require a lot more energy to run than a standard radio system. It wouldn’t have been possible for the inventor of clockwork radio to use the same technology to power television sets.

Even the internet seems like a good option until you think about it carefully. Broadband and Wi-Fi connections are something we often take for granted today. However, they’re not just available wherever you are. Internet connections require massive phone networks to be established. Every village would also require access to computers. This leads to similar problems as television, as computers would need a lot of energy to run. There’s also the issue of many communities being unable to read to deal with too.

On top of that, internet technology is often more complicated to use than televisions or radios. This means that communities would require training just to get the information that they needed.

Inventions like the Trevor Baylis clockwork radio may seem out-of-date or old-fashioned today. However, they’re still one of the most cost-effective and convenient tools for certain parts of the world. Nothing does a better job than wind-up radio when it comes to providing information quickly, at limited cost.

Clockwork Radio

Who invented the clockwork radio? Introducing Trevor Baylis

To fully understand the story of clockwork radio, you need to learn about the man who invented it.

The inventor of clockwork radio was Trevor Baylis – a philanthropist and entrepreneur born in London on May 13th, 1937. In his early years, Baylis looked set to be an Olympic champion in swimming, though he narrowly missed his chance to compete in the 1956 games. When his swimming didn’t earn him a gold medal, Baylis began to explore other passions in his life.

After completing his national service, Baylis joined a firm selling modular swimming pools. Here, he began to build his aptitude for all things mechanical. During his time in the mechanical industry, Baylis served as a salesman, designer, and showman for his company. He even engaged in magic trips, escape shows and other impressive feats to draw audience attention.

On one evening in the Autumn of 1991, Baylis was watching a documentary about the spread of AIDS in Africa. He discovered that one of the biggest issues preventing the spread of the disease from being stopped was a lack of health education. We simply couldn’t get the right information to remote communities in Africa at the time. As a result, Trevor began working on developing a tool for radio that wouldn’t require batteries or access to an electrical grid. He became the world’s first clockwork radio inventor, and his invention changed the lives of millions.

Employing springs and wind-up power technology, Trevor Baylis invented a clockwork radio that could remain powered for up to 15 minutes with a couple of turns on a crank. His invention appeared on “Tomorrow’s World,” a BBC show, and a factory emerged in South Africa to begin producing the radios. Since then, countless companies and inventors have built on the original concept, adding rechargeable batteries solar power, and other tools to make the system more efficient.

All the while, Baylis continued to work on other pioneering concepts. By the time of his death, Trevor had more than 250 inventions to his name, including shoes powered by electronic soles, and numerous devices for disabled individuals.

Clockwork Radio

How does clockwork radio work?

So, how does a clockwork radio work?

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How can you have a radio that’s not powered by batteries or conventional electricity?

A radio is just like any electrical appliance – it draws on electricity for energy. However, how you generate this power can differ depending on the device. For instance, in a typical radio using conventional electrical energy, the power would come from spinning rotors driven by access to the electrical grid, or batteries.

In a clockwork radio, how it works is a little different. You’re still spinning rotors, but the energy is converted from mechanical energy in a winding mechanism, which you power through your hand. As you turn a crank, a copper rotor turns inside the machine, creating a magnetic field.

While hand-powered generators can seem complicated at first, they’re a lot more straightforward than you’d think. The initial energy simply comes from the muscles in your arm, rather than the electrical current you access from a grid. It all starts with the theory of magnetism, discovered by the physicist Michael Faraday.

In 1831, Faraday learned that passing conductive wire through magnetic fields produced electric currents. This means that spinning a coil of wire around a magnet creates a steady flow of electricity. This principle powers generators running on diesel and gasoline fuel, as well as considerable turbines in the modern power plants of the day.

When Trevor Baylis invented the clockwork radio, he simply scaled the generator down into a gadget that people can keep in their pocket. Instead of steam, gasoline or falling water, you turn the coils and generate the magnetic current that keeps your system running.

What happened to the inventor of clockwork radio?

Surprisingly, despite the considerable impact that clockwork radio had on the third-world, Trevor Baylis died penniless, and struggling to protect his work.

The clockwork radio as a concept continues to thrive today. This essential idea means that people in remote communities can finally access crucial broadcasting, without needing access to external power sources. Even in the first world, people regularly invest in clockwork radios for survival purposes. People who go hiking or aim to explore the outer regions of the globe can’t rely on Wi-Fi or other technology to access information. For these groups, the clockwork radio is crucial.

Unfortunately, Baylis didn’t see much profit or benefit from his invention. The lack of recognition he earned for his pioneering creations pushed Baylis to create Trevor Baylis Brands. This community intended to connect inventors with patent lawyers, so that they could get to market without risking their intellectual property.

In an interview with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Baylis explained that there are countless people out there that will attempt to steal an inventor’s design. Unfortunately, we’re also living in a world where there is very little support available for inventors. Under appreciated for his life-saving work, Baylis began working on strategies to bolster intellectual rights for inventors. He worked closely with the experts in the UK patent office to tackle some unfair practices.

Over the years, Baylis earned a reputation not just as the inventor of clockwork radio, but as the man who invested in the inventors of the future. He was awarded an OBE for his efforts in 1997. What’s more, in 2009, Baylis wrote to the business secretary of the day, asking for patent theft to be made a criminal offence. In 2015, he received another OBE for his services in the realm of intellectual property protection.

Although Baylis wasn’t wholly focused on fame and fortune, he believed that it was important to give inventors their fifteen minutes of fame. He felt that a certain degree of celebrity needed to be reserved for the people who came up with life-changing ideas. After all, it’s only by seeing and hearing about other pioneers that we can inspire the inventors of tomorrow.

Baylis felt that inventors need to be protected and even celebrated in the modern community if we want to keep accomplishing amazing things.

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Trevor Baylis & the clockwork radio: The benefits of wind-up tech

As the inventor of clockwork radio, Baylis never fully received the commendation he deserved.

Unfortunately, he became something of an unsung hero in the community – a man who changed the world without successfully being able to change his own life as a result. However, Trevor Baylis and the clockwork radio continue to inspire and motivate today.

In one interview, Baylis told a magazine that anyone could turn a good idea into an invention that works. He believed that if you were trying to solve a problem, you were already on the right path towards an invention.

By creating a radio device that didn’t require access to external power sources, Baylis hoped to give more people access to advice and news so that he could stop the spread of AIDS. Unlike some other inventors and manufacturers, Baylis wasn’t just “in it for the money.” He wanted to make a difference to the world of tomorrow. The Freeplay radio was a powerful solution for the third-world countries that struggled to access up-to-date information. It was even named the best design and best product at the BBC design awards in 1996.

Clockwork radio became a lifeline for people in developing countries, who have little contact with the world outside of their village. For the people who received their wind-up radios for free thanks to Baylis’s collaboration with charitable institutions, the clockwork radio was a solution to a significant problem. Since then, wind-up technology has continued to evolve, particularly in association with the sustainability practices of the day.

As the inventor of the clockwork radio, Baylis offered some early insights into how engineering and mechanical design could respond to the environmental and social problems of the day. He, like many others, knew how valuable radio could be as a way of sharing information and bringing communities together. By designing a system that didn’t require polluting or expensive batteries, he created an environmentally-friendly solution to an ongoing concern. Not only that, but the original Trevor Baylis clockwork radio was also designed to be very robust and durable. It was easy to repair so that it could last as long as possible. This design choice represented a significant shift away from the consumption-driven product market of the time.

Although we may not talk about the clockwork radio and other wind-up devices as often today as we did several years ago, this invention is still valuable. Sustainable product design is struggling to earn recognition in the modern industry. The innovation displayed by the Baylis radio produced a crucial ripple effect in the market. Many larger corporations have since begun to develop similar products.

Although the Trevor Baylis clockwork radio has earned some criticism over the years for being “unnecessarily robust,” it was never created for the same aesthetic appeal as other common radios. It was designed specifically for use in developing countries, where the environment was far more threatening. Baylis’s clockwork radio introduced the world to the complexities of balancing social, environmental and ethical decisions in the mechanical world. It’s still a useful piece of history for aspiring mechanics today.

Clockwork Radio

What’s next for the wind-up merchant?

Trevor Baylis is perhaps one of the most appealing examples of the typical “inventor” in the modern market. From the moment he entered the mechanical industry, he was continually looking for solutions to problems. He started by addressing the needs of his injured friends, by creating solutions that would help them to live freely with their disabilities.

Eventually, Baylis moved onto assisting wider and larger groups of people from around the world. He understood the ongoing power of design and considered every possibility when launching life-changing ideas.

Since Baylis transformed the world with the first clockwork radio, countless other companies have entered the market. Motorola even teamed up with the Freeplay brand to produce a wind-up mobile phone charger. The system offers up to 5 minutes of talk-time for 45 seconds of charging. Other brands like Phillips and Sony also got involved, exploring the benefits of wind-up technology to support their more adventurous customers, and those who wanted to be prepared for any potential disaster.

A business called Atkin Design and Development even produced a next-generation wind-up battery, capable of using a super capacitor rather than a rechargeable lithium battery. This innovation was adapted into the wind-up radio in collaboration with Sony. Now, Sony can offer units that play for up to 90 minutes after just one minute of winding.

The technology behind clockwork devices is constantly evolving. The prototype of a clockwork radio took a lot of winding just to power fourteen to fifteen minutes of radio broadcasting. Current devices are capable of so much more. You can even find cranks to power your smartphone. However, this all comes from continued research that began with the invention of the clockwork radio.

Without Trevor Baylis and his life-changing design, we never would have known what was possible with the creation of the clockwork radio. It was Baylis and his selfless inventions that showed us how we could tap into other forms of energy to power the crucial tools that communities need to thrive. Now that electronic components are becoming increasingly energy efficient, we’re beginning to once again see the true power of wind-up technology.

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