Golden Valley inventor Rich Kronfeld and his electric car are appearing tonight, Feb. 25, on “All American Makers,” a Science Channel program that gives inventors a chance to present their ideas to potential investors. The program airs at 9 p.m.
We can’t tell you how it ends, but we can say that Kronfeld does pretty well.
Kronfeld is also a finalist in the Clean Energy Trust Challenge, a national competition with a grand prize of $1 million, and he’ll be inventor-in-residence in April and May at the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis. Kronfeld’s car is called the “Rahtmobile”: Raht is short for Recumbent Automotive High-speed Transport. The operator pedals the car, and an electric motor boosts the human output. “Think of it like a guitar amp,” Kronfeld said.
The following Q&A with Kronfeld has been edited for brevity. For more information, visit www.rahtmobile.com. Kronfeld is also launching a Kickstarter campaign for funding. Visit www.kickstarter.com and search for “rahtmobile.”
Q: You’ve spent much of your life as an entertainer and writer. Did you ever think you’d be an inventor? [Kronfeld starred in “Let’s Bowl,” a national program on Comedy Central, and also stars in the local children’s program, “The Choo Choo Bob Show.”]
A: It seems like a paradox. But in entertainment, you’re sort of doing that. If you’re coming up with a movie script or a TV show, you’re doing a lot of concepting. That’s kind of inventing, too — just a different kind of inventing.
I’m more excited about this than anything I did in entertainment. And I’m proud of myself for getting this far. I’ve also been fortunate enough to find really good people to work with.
Q: Given your TV experience, were you nervous appearing on the Science Channel show?
A: The entertainment experience has been real helpful. Because of my background, I was able to get really good people to make a video. And I have experience writing scripts. It’s one part your concept and it’s another part showmanship. And in some cases the showmanship is more important than the actual technology.
Q: You often read about struggling inventors, slaving away for years. Has this been hard on your family?
A: They’ve all been very supportive. In fact, it was my wife who encouraged me to apply for the first grant I got. My parents have also been very supportive. My 11-year-old daughter likes science, and so she really likes to help.
People have told me, you should make a reality show out of what you’re doing with the car. And I tell them, it wouldn’t be that entertaining. I wish it was as interesting as they think it is.
Q: Were there any big surprises with the TV show?
A: The car had to be trailered all the way to Brooklyn, and there was a big storm. I was flying out, and we had to land in Pittsburgh. So the guy with the car picked me up and it took us 14 hours driving through the storm to get to New York at 4 a.m.
And we’re completely burnt, and our call was at 6 a.m. — so we had two hours, and I was cranky as hell. There’s a strong possibility they’re going to make me look like a complete jerk on this show, because I was so exhausted and irritated. I did get my revenge. I charged them for a first-class upgrade on the trip home.
Q: When is Elon Musk [Tesla Motors’ founder] going to call you?
A: I’m waiting by the phone. I don’t know what his problem is.