Trevor Baylis (1937 – 2018)
The radio is a wonderful invention. It provides company to the lonely, disseminates information and forms of entertainment and allows nations to talk to nations. The receiver, though, needs some form of power, typically electricity or via a battery, to work and without it you are snookered. This is where the latest inductee into our illustrious Hall of Fame, Trevor Baylis, comes in.
With AIDS sweeping through Africa in the 1990s the radio was a vitalmedium for spreading the all-important health information to the more remote communities. The problem, though, was that batteries needed to power the radios were hard to come by and expensive. A TV programme on the subject aired in 1993 spurred Baylis into action.
Tinkering around in his workshop he began experimenting with a hand brace, an electric motor and a small radio. He found that the brace turning the motor acted as a generator which could produce enough energy to power the radio. His next adaptation was to add a clockwork mechanism that meant that a spring could be wound up and as it unwound, the radio would play. On winding his prototype for a couple of minutes the radio played for 14 minutes. Baylis had invented the windup radio which as it was totally reliant upon human power could be a godsend for so-called underdeveloped countries.
Baylis tried to interest companies in his invention but those he approached were dubious as to its commercial value. Nonetheless the invention was showcased on an edition of “Tomorrow’s World” in April 1994 and piqued the interest of an accountant, Christopher Staines, and South African entrepreneur, Rory Stear. With funding from the Liberty Life Group, a South African insurer, Stear and Staines set up a company, BayGen Power Industries, in Cape Town to make a commercial version of Baylis’ invention.
Although Baylis had patented his invention and was involved in the BayGen business, as you would expect with an inductee, all did not go to plan. The company made a small but important change to the original design, using the spring to charge a battery rather than generating the power directly. This subtle change took the radio outside of Baylis’ patent and so he lost control of the product and the revenues that followed from it.
And the radio was successful. A second generation radio was developed in 1997 aimed at Western consumers which would run for an hour on a thirty-second wind. We have one which we use in the garden. The range of products using the technology grew to include a torch – very useful in power cuts – a mobile phone charger and a MP3 player. Showered with honours – he was awarded an OBE in 1997 and CBE in 2015 and was so regularly in the media that he became Pipe Smoker of the Year in 1999 – Baylis saw very little of the financial benefits that flowed from his inventions.
In his latter years Baylis has devoted part of his time to lobbying the British Government to better protect the rights of inventors so that they do not suffer the same fate as him. As he said, “I was very foolish. I didn’t protect my product properly and allowed other people to take my product away. It is too easy to rip off other people’s ideas”.
Nonetheless, Trevor, for bringing the world the wind up radio and getting ripped off in the process, you are a worthy inductee into our Hall of Fame.
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