CNN logo


Tech half banner

Crank up the power

Company taps human energy to run appliances

An expanded Web version of segments seen on CNN

January 8, 1997
Web posted at: 9:10 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Ann Kellan


(CNN) -- Imagine appliances that aren't plugged in and that don't require batteries, fuel, or even solar energy. Their power source has been around for thousands of years, and you've got some of it with you right now.

The latest in electronic gadgets run on a basic principle: the power of human energy.

movie icon Windup Gadget Radio
24 sec./1.2M QuickTime movie

A wind-up radio, called the "free-play radio," has been on the market for only a few months and costs about $100. Sixty turns of the crank delivers 30 minutes of listening.


Vaughan Wiles, president of BayGen, the South African company that manufactures the free-play, explains that the device's power generator is powered by a spring wound from one spool to another.

"The energy is stored on one side of the spool, transfers to the other, and runs through the gear train," says Wiles. "If there's a human being around that can wind, it'll work." icon (264K/24 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

The radio will last for thousands of hours, says BayGen's Wiles, who added that it was initially designed to get information to countrymen in under-developed regions.


The same concept is put to work in a wind-up flashlight that is due to hit the market in another six months. The prototype, Wiles says, will run for about eight minutes..

Users can increase or decrease the intensity of the light. Decreasing it saves power and extends the duration. icon (306K/28 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

College students who got a look at the wind-up flashlight said they'd be willing to wind it up to save energy and lose the hassle of batteries.

BayGen says it's useful for emergencies and power outages.

The company is considering cell phones, laptop computers and generators as it looks for new ways to link the old energy source with modern technology.
icon (544K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"We are in the middle of research now," Wiles says. "We anticipate that there are other technologies ... to further advance the utility of these products."

Vivo streaming movie

Complete story as seen on CNN
Time: 2:31

Vivo icon

  • Download a player
  • Vivo's technical FAQ

  • Check out what's coming up
    on next week's Tomorrow/Today


    Related site:

    Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

    External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


    Watch these shows on CNN for more sci-tech stories:

    CNN Computer Connection | Future Watch | Science & Technology Week

    What You Think Tell us what you think!

    You said it...

    To the top

    © 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
    All Rights Reserved.

    Terms under which this service is provided to you.