Peddling Technology: The Art and Science of the Art in Science

30
May

Written By David Pogge

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Sometimes engineering brilliance requires an artist’s touch. It’s a peculiar dichotomy. Most assume it will be the scientifically minded that will propel humanity forward. But without a creative vision, numbers and figures are often little more than scratches on a blackboard, towering equations bent on solving hypothetical problems while the world outsides craves real solutions.

With the right kind of attention and backing, the Raht Racer could be one of those solutions. Though only one prototype has been built and the inventor is still in the process of accumulating seed money, there’s no question that the Raht Racer is a work of bona fide ingenuity of the most progressive kind.

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What exactly is the Raht Racer? Well, it’s more or less a covered bicycle. Actually, it’s more like a lightweight, earth friendly automobile that derives a portion of its power from the efforts of the driver. Or, you could think of it as an exercise machine that can also get you to work. Really it’s all of these things and maybe a few more. Whatever it is, the most important thing to remember is that this is a vehicle that requires no gas, yet can reach speeds of up to 100mph all while getting you the daily exercise you need.

“I can’t remember if I was dreaming or if I actually saw this,” Raht Racer inventor and CEO, Richard Kronfield recalls, explaining the origin of his opus. “But I have this vague memory . . . it was maybe six or seven years ago . . . I remember seeing this thing. It was like a pod, but it had bicycle wheels coming out of it and someone was pedaling it. It was parked next to a bike trail or something. Anyway, I just had this image in my head . . . maybe I dreamt it.”

Wherever the idea came from, it was lodged in the caverns of his noggin and wasn’t going away. And like a song that begs to be written or an image that demands that paint touch canvas, this idea required a form of exorcism that could only be achieved through its realization.

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“I started looking into it,” he begins, “and I found that in Europe and in Australia, they have these things called velomobiles.” A velomobile is a generic term for a bicycle that’s encased in a pod for a rain or shine experience, as well as a better drag coefficiency. “I started researching them because I was bike commuting to my job, which was a 13 mile trip . . . And then I looked into a powered one. You know, you can get a bicycle with an electric assist now pretty easily.” Long story short, he found a few ideas that were close to his vision, but nothing that scratched the metaphorical itch his initial thought had created.

“On a whim, I met this artist in Winona, Minnesota. He’s a really good artist and sculptor . . . I asked him to start designing something that maybe I could have made somewhere or something. Then, I found out about this grant from the state of Minnesota through this electric vehicle club for new vehicle technologies . . . my wife said, ‘Why don’t you apply for it, just for the hell of it? Maybe it will make you flesh out your idea a little more.’ I did and to my surprise, I won the grant so then we built the prototype of the first Raht Racer.”

The end result was a symphony of efficiency. Through an array of parts and components sourced from a myriad of unlikely places, Kronfield was able to materialize his vision into reality. For the core of his invention, he tapped a shop in New Jersey that specialized in electric motors. He picked up the front end of the body from an ATV salvage yard. The pedal generator is made up of two flywheels sourced from an exercise machine. Somehow, from this Frankenstein-like splicing of random odds and ends, Kronfield was able to synthesize a sleek, stylish, one of a kind electric vehicle that boasted a range of 50 miles per charge and could reach the aforementioned speed of 100mph. But to view it as a mere method of transportation is to sell it short on what it truly is. It’s also a mobile fitness machine.

“It works in different modes,” Kronfield explains proudly. “You can drive the car in a workout program mode where it’s actually running an exercise program profile. You can choose from different programs just like an exercise machine. Another mode it works in is where it interprets the terrain based on GPS and it tells the system—because your pedals aren’t connected to the wheels; they’re connected to the generators, so you’re free to do whatever you want—but it tells the system you’re going uphill and makes it harder to pedal. Then you go downhill and it makes it easier to pedal. So then you have this actual virtual real world experience.”

Genius. Which brings us back to the initial point. Naturally, one would assume a creation of this caliber would have to spring forth from the mind of an engineer. Well . . .

“I was in show business. So, no to the engineer, yes to the theater major,” he retorts with a chuckle. “My day job at the time I was bike commuting was working for a TV production company. My most recent day job, the one that I just left, was working for a Children’s media brand.”

What he lacked in scientific know-how, he made up for with creative spark and an unwavering commitment to his vision. His experience in film and television production didn’t hurt either.

“All work is the same,” he rightly suggests. “It’s just different trades of work. You know, you write a movie script; it’s your first draft. Then you have to go back and tweak it and tweak it and tweak it. Building this thing is like being a director. It’s my vision . . . I can get into some areas somewhat deeply, but I’m not an MIT engineer. I wish I was, but I’m just not that good. I need help here and there . . . The caveat is I can think of how I want stuff to work . . . but I had to work with people to actually do the engineering design, the circuit design.”

From here, Kronfield hopes to go back to the drawing board and further perfect his invention. The ideas pouring from his brain are seemingly endless, all bent toward further tweaking efficiency and curb appeal. A larger battery, a lighter frame, a solar panel on the body, even a potential turbine to aid in charging while it sits still are all in consideration, as well as dozens more possibilities being kicked around in his free time. Kronfield sees the continued development of the Raht Racer as not only important for his eventual bottom line, but also potentially instrumental in widening the popularity of the green movement in general.

“The way I see it is all of this stuff is really necessary,” he says. “You have to have both sides of the coin. You have to have important breakthrough new technologies that target a specific thing to make it cleaner and more efficient. You need that. But I think you also need the other side of it, which is stuff that grabs peoples’ imaginations and attention. Stuff that people can get their heads around, like the Raht Racer. It’s beautiful, and cool and you can understand it and it’s fun, it’s exciting. I think you need that aspect too to promote clean green stuff. You need a flashiness or sexiness to bring it to the masses.”

You can find out more about the sexiness yourself at www.rahtmobile.com.

 

 

 


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