Radio, swing tag, instruction booklet and packaging, 'Freeplay S360 Self Powered', plastic / metal, Freeplay Energy Group, South Africa, 2001
This AM/FM radio features three different energy supply facilities: a carbon steel spring wind-up mechanism and generator; a solar panel; and an in-built rechargeable battery. It is the product of the Freeplay Energy Group, which has research facilities in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The company aims to provide access to energy for all, by delivering freedom from the dead battery, the electrical power failure or, for most of the world, no electricity at all.
The radio has been extremely beneficial in developing and war-torn countries where affordable electricity supply is scarce or non-existent and where batteries are costly. Radios often represent the only way people in these areas can be kept informed of current events, preventative health care, refugee assistance programmes, aid relief, distance education and missing persons information.
The wind-up or clockwork radio was invented in 1993 in the UK by Trevor Bayliss after he saw a television program about the difficulty of educating Africans about AIDS due to lack of communication facilities. His first radio was powered only by a spring-driven, wind up generator operated manually by turning a handle located at the side of the unit. The strip steel springs were energised by winding from one spool to another against a preform. As the spring returned to its original position, it applied rotational torque to a three-stage gearbox, whose output drove a generator, which produced enough electricity to power a standard three band (short wave, medium wave, frequency modulated) radio circuit. As the primary energy storage system, steel springs offered the advantage of being a fail-safe technology.
The wind-up radio has received endorsements from international and humanitarian organisations around the world from the Red Cross to the United Nations, as well as from heads of state and community leaders. They were initially manufactured in a factory outside Cape Town, South Africa. Production was begun in 1996 by a private commercial company, the BayGen Power Company, later renamed the Freeplay Energy Group. Production has subsequently been outsourced to China.
Freeplay focusses exclusively on developing technology which harnesses and delivers human mechanical energy as electricity. This electricity is renewable and ecologically sound. The company has developed applications where self-sufficient energy is integral to the device, such as radios, lanterns, flashlights and torches; it has also developed a stand-alone unit that powers several devices. Telephones, transceivers, navigation aids, computers, medical and military equipment are all suitable for self-powered adaptation. As the power demanded by most electronic devices continues to decline, the efficiency and packaging of self-powered technology can be improved.
This compact AM/FM radio, first launched by Freeplay in January 1999, is the S360 model. It features not only the spring wind up mechanism but a solar panel as well as a built-in rechargeable battery which can be charged by sitting in the sun, winding it up or charging from mains electricity. It was presented for display in the EcoLogic exhibition in 2001 by Freeplay's Australian agent, John Devitt & Associates Pty Ltd of Balgowlah, NSW.
Assistant Curator, Transport
The wind up radio was designed by Trevor Bayliss O.B.E. Born in Kilburn, London, in 1937, Bayliss was brought up in Southall, where his education was disrupted by the war, leading to failure at the 11+ exam. At the age of 15 Bayliss was swimming competitively for Britain and at 16 he began working part time at Soil Mechanics Laboratory in Southall, enabling him to study mechanical and structural engineering at the local technical college. At the age of 20 he started his National Service as a physical training instructor and swam for the Army and Imperial Services. After leaving the Army in 1961 he joined Purley Pools as a salesman and progressed to take in research and development. He went on to start his own swimming pool company and also worked as a stuntman on various TV shows, performing escape feats underwater.
In 1993 Bayliss's flair for invention came to the fore after he watched a television program about the difficulty of educating Africans about AIDS. The commentator observed that in many regions radios were the only available means of mass communication, but the need for batteries or electricity made them too expensive or difficult to access. Within three months Trevor Bayliss had built the first prototype clockwork radio in his garden shed. It ran for 14 minutes on a two-minute wind.
Bayliss attempted to promote his invention, but manufacturers were not convinced of its commercial value and he suffered many rejections. In April 1994 his invention was featured on the BBC program 'Tomorrow's World'. The product's potential was immediately recognised by corporate finance expert Christopher Staines and his business partner, the South African entrepreneur Rory Stear. They realised that the self-sufficient electronics industry could go much further than radio and Africa. The Baygen Power Company, later renamed the Freeplay Energy Group, was established in November1994. In September 1995 Freeplay was launched as a brand name for products of personal power generated technology. (http://www.ogormans.co.uk/Bayliss.htm)
Starting with a grant from the British Government to develop the clockwork radio idea, funding was acquired to set up the BayGen Power Company in Cape Town, South Africa. This came about when details of the invention were broadcast over a Johannesburg radio station and were heard by the Liberty Group, a foundation which invests in worthwhile projects. The possibility of having disabled people assembling the radios was considered, and Dr William Rowland, President of the Disabled People for South Africa, endorsed the idea. Liberty Life then provided the funding to begin production in February 1996, in conjunction with a group of organisations for the disabled who became business partners in the venture. It was not long before BayGen Freeplay radios were being manufactured at the rate of 20,000 per month in a Cape Town factory where one third of the workers were disabled.
Radios were exported to the UK, Holland and Africa, followed by the US in May 1996. In September 1997 the Freeplay FPR2 radio range was launched in Europe and America, followed in January 1998 by the Freeplay self-powered lantern. In May 1998 Nelson Mandela and Terry Waite opened a new factory in Cape Town. In January 1999 the Freeplay S360 radio was launched, followed in January 2000 by the Freeplay 20/20 lantern.
Freeplay products have earnt numerous awards. The radio received the prestigious BBC Design Award for Best Product and Best Design in July 1996, the President's Award for Export Achievement from Nelson Mandela in November 1997, the Millennium Product Status by the UK Design Council in November 1998, the design and product innovation awards at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 1998 and 1999. The Freeplay Lantern was awarded the Millennium Product Status by the UK Design Council in May 1999.
Investors have included Liberty Life, Gordon and Anita Roddick (of The Body Shop International PLC), General Electric and Worldspace. The company's success is partly due to endorsement by heads of state, royalty, celebrities and community leaders around the world. Supporters include the Red Cross, CARE, War Child, the United Nations, the EU, private individuals, and humanitarian agencies in the United States, Britain, Japan and many others.
In December 2000 it was announced that the Freeplay Energy Group had outsourced the manufacture of its products to Hong Kong-based supply chain manager Li & Fung, which operates a global network of 7000 manufacturers. Freeplay's Cape Town factory was converted to refurbish old computers. The company will focus on research, development and licensing of commercially viable applications. It is actively seeking partnerships with established brands to introduce and license its proprietary applications. Project partners participate in joint programs which adapt their products to human powered opportunities, thereby tapping the potential of self-powered technology more effectively.
The company's head office is: the Freeplay Group, Cirencester Business Park, Love Lane, Cirencester, Gloucester, UK, GL7 1XD. Tel (44 128) 565 9559, fax: (44 128) 565 9550, contact Mr Oliver Paillot email@example.com.