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