With his amazing clockwork radio, British inventor Trevor Bayliss has built a machine that could save the lives of millions of Africans.
You may have heard of Alexander Graham Bell, John Logie Baird, Robert Stephenson or James Watt. They were all great British inventors from the age of Queen Victoria. But they all died a long time ago. Now, scientists work as part of a team within giant corporations. Inventors and inventions have 'gone corporate'. But one man is keeping the tradition of British eccentricity and individualism alive. Trevor Bayliss has invented the clockwork radio for use in countries with a limited electricity supply and it could help save millions of lives. Now he is also working on a pair of shoes that will recharge your mobile phone!
Trevor Bayliss, one-time salesman, TV stuntman and junior swimming champion, was watching the news on television one day in 1991 and was depressed at the pictures he saw of children dying of AIDS in Africa. He began thinking about what could be done to stop the spread of a disease that the United Nations estimates has already killed 11 million Africans and infected 22 million with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.
"The only thing that can stop the spread of HIV in that continent is the spread of education," Bayliss told The World of English. "The most effective way to do that in Africa is by radio. But many parts of Africa have no electricity, and consequently there are not many radios there." He went to bed that night deeply troubled by what he saw and wondering what could be done to get potentially life-saving information to the people of Africa. Like many great inventions the idea for the clockwork radio came to him in a dream.
He dreamt that night that he was a British colonialist in Africa at the beginning of the century, sitting on his veranda sipping a gin and tonic and listening to a record playing on one of those old-fashioned wind-up gramophones. "And that was it", Trevor remembers. "If record players used to be driven by a spring attached to a dynamo, then why not have a radio powered by the same method?"
Though Trevor never went to university, he had studied mechanical and structural engineering part-time while working for the Soil Mechanics Laboratory in west London when he was sixteen. He went on to work in the research and development unit of a swimming pool manufacturer. With this scientific background Trevor sat down to develop the world's first clockwork radio.
Not worth producing
After only a few months he had built his first working prototype, which kept running for nearly fifteen minutes after a single wind-up. Excited by his work, he took his invention to various manufacturers who all dismissed his idea as crazy and not worth producing. "They treated me with discourtesy, indifference and humiliation," he complains bitterly. "I knew some of them liked the idea but they wanted to take it away from me. I soon realized that I was surrounded by crooks and 'vulture' capitalists."
Help came in 1994 after he appeared on a BBC television programme that was sponsored by Prince Charles, who wished to encourage the work of individual inventors. After that the idea was immediately taken up by a South African company which began manufacturing the Freeplay wind-up radio.
Since then his invention has won him awards for design and the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire), one of Britain's highest honours, from Queen Elizabeth. The radio, which now exists in many versions, was featured in the British Millennium Exhibition when it came to Warsaw and Kraków earlier this year.
The short wave radio allows transmissions to be heard from thousands of miles away. There are also FM and medium-wave versions as well. The radio can play for forty minutes after only twenty seconds winding. About 30,000 radios are produced a month and many are being bought by humanitarian organizations such as the International Red Cross. Among the radio's fans is Nelson Mandela, who visited the factory where they are made in South Africa in 1998.
More to come
But Trevor isn't finished yet. A clockwork laptop computer is being developed using brand new 'smart card' technology which will also be of great use in Third World countries. And there is more!
"I have just invented a pair of shoes that, as I walk, generate enough electricity to recharge my mobile phone," Trevor announced proudly. "I'm going walking in Namibia in Africa this year to raise money for a charity that campaigns against anti-personnel mines. These mines, like AIDS, kill a lot of people around the world. When I finish the walk I am going to recharge my mobile from the middle of the desert and if I can get a connection I am going to call the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and tell him what I have done!"
Is Trevor the last of a long line of great British inventors and eccentrics? Britain still produces a large number of inventions. Over the past fifty years for instance, 40% of the new innovations which have been taken up worldwide originated in the United Kingdom. But inventors now work in teams for large multinational companies so we hear less and less of inspired individuals like Trevor Bayliss. For instance, 30% of the work of the Human Genome Project that has mapped, sequenced and deciphered the entire text of human DNA was researched by the Sanger Centre in the UK. A staff of 600 scientists worked on the project.
Trevor has founded a new Academy for inventors and inventions in Britain to promote and help develop the work of people like himself. "What people like me need is encouragement and support, not the cynicism that I experienced." And what advice would Trevor give to any budding inventor? "Just to remember that genius, as somebody much cleverer than me once said, is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. There is no substitute for hard work."