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Invention and innovation: An introduction
Invention and innovation: An introduction

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10.5 Desire to help others

This is a less common motivation but it shows not everyone is driven by money.

In 1991 the inventor Trevor Baylis saw a BBC documentary about the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. What was needed was a way of broadcasting the safe-sex message to people in areas without electricity and where batteries for a radio could cost a month's wages. Solar power wouldn't necessarily help as most people who could get to a radio listened in the evening after work. While absorbing this information he imagined himself as a colonial administrator in the Sudan, sipping gin and listening to an old-fashioned wind-up gramophone.

Then Baylis had the inspired thought that if a simple clockwork spring could power a gramophone then it could be applied to a spring-driven radio. Months of experimentation eventually produced a prototype of a hand-cranked clockwork mechanism that drove a tiny generator that powered a radio for 14 minutes on a 30-second wind. After a 4-year period of fund-raising, market research, design and development, the first Freeplay radio was launched in 1995.

For a number of years the radio was made by disabled workers in a factory in South Africa. Subsequently the manufacture of Freeplay products was transferred to China. However the spirit behind Trevor Baylis's invention has found an outlet in the Freeplay Foundation that, since 2000, has complemented the work of various agencies by distributing self-powered radios free as part of a range of humanitarian initiatives.