Personal Tech

British clockwork radio boffin Trevor Baylis terminally winds down

Inventor dies in poverty after patents didn’t protect

By Iain Thomson in San Francisco


Obit Trevor Baylis, one of Britain's most well-loved inventors and the creator of the clockwork radio that was designed to save lives in the developing world, has died at the age of 80 after battling Crohn's disease.

Baylis led an interesting life but became famous after inventing an ingenious wind-up radio that he was inspired to create after watching a documentary about the African AIDS crisis in 1991. By employing a strong spring, he invented a radio that could be powered for 15 minutes with a couple of turns of a crank, which he foresaw being used in the developing world for public health information broadcasts.

After being featured on the BBC show Tomorrow's World, the idea gained ground and a factory was set up in South Africa to produce the radios. However, he saw little in profit from the device after other manufacturers took the idea and got around his patent by adding a rechargeable battery that was powered by the hand crank.

You can see the broadcast below.

This hack had a Baylis radio for many years, and very reliable it was too. Baylis later adapted the idea to MP3 players and other devices, and campaigned for patent infringement to become a criminal offense.

Baylis was born in London on 13 May, 1937 and initially looked set for an Olympic career, narrowly missing a place in the 1956 games as a swimmer. After showing an aptitude for things mechanical, he joined a firm selling modular swimming pools after completing his national service.

During his time in the industry, he served as a designer, salesman, and showman for the company, including high dives and underwater escapology. He then set up his own swimming pool firm and bought a house on London's Eel Pie Island, where he began inventing in his garden shed.

By the time of his death Baylis had over 250 inventions to his name, besides the radio he was most famous for. These included electricity-generating shoes powered by piezo-electronic soles, and numerous devices for the disabled community.

Baylis received an Order of the British Empire award in 1997 for his services to intellectual property and was awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2015. However, plagued by financial troubles and laid low by illness, he died of natural causes on Monday at his home. ®

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