Trevor Baylis, the inventor of the wind-up radio, has died aged 80. His invention not only helped fight HIV but is credited with inspiring engineers and technology experts to think about products for the developing world.
After a professional life that included stuntwork and underwater escapology, he began his inventing career by producing modified household goods for people with disabilities. These included a one-handed bottle opener and scissors that could be operated with feet rather than hands.
His most famous invention came after seeing a television show which talked about the need to use radio to spread an educational message about HIV in Africa, something that was difficult given that electricity and batteries were either inexpensive or unreliable for many people.
Baylis put together a prototype of a clockwork radio using pieces cobbled together from spare devices in his workshop including a radio, toy car and clockwork music box. He said the basic idea came from early gramophones which had to be wound-up to be played.
The invention took several years to catch on before it was featured on BBC technology show Tomorrow’s World. It became hugely successful, with more than three million units sold. However, Baylis made little money from the invention as his patent on the technology was too specific. A small design change was enough for other manufacturers to make the radio without needing to pay royalties. He later ran a company designed to help other inventors get their products to market while protecting their rights.
Professor Will Stewart told the BBC that the radios’ “biggest impact was probably that they had been made by a First World engineer who cared about the Third World” and that this inspired other inventors to follow in his footsteps.