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PANORAMA: 1997

Invention Academy
by Jim Kelsey

TREVOR BAYLIS, the British inventor of the successful BayGen clockwork radio, is to establish an Academy of Inventors to give potential creators an opportunity to turn their ideas into commercial reality.

Mr Baylis has already won the support of the Royal Institution, which promotes scientific knowledge, the Federation of Small Businesses and over 120 organisations representing professional skilled workers throughout the country.

It is hoped the Academy of Inventors will be housed at the Royal Institution to provide a reservoir of skills, experience, support and resources for enterprising individuals in the UK. It would set standards and advise inventors on whether or not their ideas were feasible and capable of sustainable economic commercialisation.

If the ideas have potential, the academy will advise inventors and put them in touch with a company prepared to back their concept, produce the prototype and do the marketing. As a member of the academy, the inventor would pay for its services by donating a percentage of the royalties after the invention goes into production, explained Mr Baylis. Awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his imaginative ideas and work for the handicapped, Trevor Baylis has already applied for funding for his proposed academy to the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. ''I think we might be successful as many scientists and industrialists believe that if only a modestly higher percentage of our creative capacity had been successfully marketed to our own benefit in the past we would have one of the most successful and globally competitive economies, with the highest standard and quality of life in the world,'' says Mr Baylis.

He knows all about how difficult it is to interest anyone in an invention. When he had the idea for his clockwork (or wind-up) radio in 1991, now regarded as one of the most outstanding developments in technical engineering of the decade, he had great problems to interest anyone in its commercial development.

In 1994 he decided to abandon the laws of disclosure (after you reveal your idea it can be taken up by anyone) and appeared on the BBC television programme, Tomorrow's World. Shortly afterwards he was contacted by Christopher Staines, who with Rory Stear, set up Baylis Generators (BayGen). Both partners saw the potential of the radio and secured 140,000 pounds sterling funding from the Overseas Development Administration and 150,000 pounds sterling from Liberty Life to turn the idea into reality.

As all Mr Baylis's previous inventions had been for the handicapped, Mr Staines decided to establish a factory of mixed-ability employees in Cape Town, South Africa, where the BayGen radio is now produced. Economically priced, initially the battery-less radio was designed specifically for the developing world. It has proved so successful that a second, smaller edition which, in a bow to noise abatement, plays much longer at low volume, is now selling throughout the Western world. Sales of both models total 50,000 a month. At present, Mr Baylis is working on a wind-up lap-top computer in collaboration with General Electric of America. A firm believer that the best ideas are the simplest, Mr Baylis got the idea when he was attending a recent Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in Botswana.

''I had my BayGen with me that I have adapted so that I can plug a small torch in the back to give me light,'' says Mr Baylis. ``I came across an Apple lap-top and found it could be charged up with the same connection. The lap-top needed 7.5 volts by one amp for one hour to give it power for 28 hours. In the experiments I did, it was found that the radio that powered the torch could give the lap-top power for 19 minutes.

''We need to do more work to increase the power supply but having shown that the principle works and there is compatibility, the road is open to a wind-up lap-top. The development has attracted the interest and investment of General Electric and we have set up a new company, BayGen Power International, to exploit the idea.''

Another invention Mr Baylis is working on is gravity generation using trees to provide electricity for small refrigerators and televisions. It works on the same principle as the old Grandfather clock: a lead weight powered by the spring mechanism, that is also the heart of the BayGen radio. If you pull a weight to the top of a tree and then let it descend slowly it can be linked to a generator to provide electricity for all kinds of devices that depend on power for their operation. Once the weight has dropped, it can be wound up again. This type of generation would be ideal for many operations in the developing world where electricity is not easily available.

A qualified engineer, Mr Baylis bubbles with ideas. He worked as a stuntman, underwater escape artist in a Berlin circus and champion swimmer in his youth before turning to inventing. His first success was the Shotline free-standing swimming pool that is now used in over 300 schools throughout the country. Later he invented and developed a range of products for the mentally and physically handicapped.

For more information, contact:

Trevor Baylis
Haven Studio, Eel Pie Island
Twickenham, Middlesex, United Kingdom, TW1 3DY
Telephone: +44 181 891 1151
Fax: +44 181 891 0673.

  

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