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Rich Kronfeld

The Epiphany That Started A Long, Strange Trip

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I’m a car guy. I have to admit it. I’ve been a car guy since I was 7 or 8 building car models with my friend Steven in his mom’s basement. We built many a Monte Carlo, Lincoln and Cadillac, (his favorite). One year, the model maker company cut corners and didn’t make the small change to the grille of one of their models, which had been an update by the car manufacturer that year. Steven, all of 8 years old, wrote a customer complaint letter threatening to sue and the company sent him a whole case of models to make amends. Actually this happened again and they sent him another case of car models. I believe they sent Steven so many car models; he may still be making them.

My first, true car was my dad’s BMW 2002, which was a hit at my college with all my friends and me. I loved the car and kick myself all the time for letting it get shabby and finally selling it. The 2002 was truly a cool, European car, when in my opinion BMW’s were still cool. When I graduated, I “graduated” to a Nissan 300Z. For some reason, I was taken by this flashy, airhead, over the classy, intelligent 2002. The 300Z was the kind of car a middle aged man with a toupee would buy. Eventually, I upgraded to a much better version – the 300Z Twin Turbo. That was a great car and I loved it, but…

Then one day, sometime around 2000, I had an epiphany. Why was I putting money in the hands of petro dictators and malevolent, gigantic oil companies? What’s the point of a big, gas engine? So what if you have 300, 400, 500, or 1,000 horsepower? You still can’t go 200 mph on the highway and you’re not likely to drive to Indianapolis and pull onto the racetrack during the 500. It’s just about power projection, which is sad that so many of us choose wastefulness, just to satisfy our need to project power; myself included.

For about 10 years after my epiphany, I dreamt of a vehicle that was clean, fun, fast, efficient, pedal driven, weatherproof and safe. A vehicle that would use your own power input to make it crazy efficient. Then I actually had a literal dream of the Raht Racer one night. I began to write descriptions and look for someone to help me visualize it. Luckily I met another car guy, Lyon Smith, a great artist who drew dozens of sample sketches, (the first one at the top of this post – I told him I wanted something that looked like Darth Vader – isn’t it great?).

A few people in the electric car club I was a member in told me that a human/electric hybrid vehicle is irrational, impractical, dumb; human beings can only contribute a small fraction of the power necessary to make the vehicle operate (150-200Wh in a 13kWh system). To that critique I say, “so what?”  Like stated above, people satisfy their egos every day by buying sports cars capable of going 200 mph that will never go 200 mph and expensive SUV’s that are designed to go off the road that will never be taken off the road. Like those kinds of vehicles, the Raht Racer will appeal to people’s emotions and desire for power. Unlike those vehicles, the Raht will appeal to emotions about the environment and emphasize the power of the self. In our homes, we recycle a very small amount of material in the overall waste stream, but it adds up and it makes us feel better to do our part. Driving the Raht will also help us to feel we’re doing our part.

I’m still a car guy, just not a fossil fuel car guy.

So, What’s The Problem?

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We’re making progress on clean energy, clean technology, sustainable energy and that’s great. Solar has grown leaps and bounds, more EV’s are on the road, battery technology is improving, people are more accepting of the fact that climate change is human caused, (anthropogenic). And yet, when one stops to consider the colossal, planetary response needed to truly cut all the heads off the global warming dragon, it comes up woefully short. Think about it this way; imagine the mobilization of all sides in World War 2.

Consider the millions of people engaged; billions/trillions of hours worked; new machinery designed and built (sometimes in a matter of weeks); ships built every few days; the soldiers mobilized, trained; the way whole populations worked for the war effort. It’s mind boggling when you consider the Second World War from the perspective of organization, management and cost. And the war effort was approached in multiple strategies; ground warfare, massive industrial output and the big idea, (Manhattan Project). Now take that image of all the effort put forth by all the countries fighting in WWII, multiply it by 100 and you begin to have an idea of what truly addressing climate change looks like. Our ground game is preservation of forests and a massive planting effort, industrial output is new, clean, sustainable energy systems and the big idea is some new way to scrub out billions of tons of CO2, a solar shield, or some other exotic, new tech.

Apparently world governments have not deemed climate change enough of an emergency to declare war and mobilize their populations and resources. Yes, many countries are talking steps, some big and bold, but nothing compared to an all-out war effort; which brings me to the title of this post – what’s the problem?

We stormed the beaches of Normandy, but for some reason we can’t tell GM to stop making internal combustion engines. We built the world’s most expansive and complex transportation system in history, but we can’t build a clean power grid. America essentially won the 20th Century, but we can’t even take the simplest, no brainer steps like phasing out dirty, wildly polluting 2 cycle engines. If the climate naysayer mentality had triumphed around 100+ years ago, we would never have electrified the cities, developed indoor plumbing, or developed food safety standards. “It’s too hard”, they would have said; “too expensive to insure that people don’t die of dysentery from eating their lunch.” Yes we saved the world from fascism, but these days we can’t save the world from our own mistakes.

The work that has been done thus far, though important is a drop in the bucket. Either the people of the world demand that their governments start seeing this on a war level scale, or at least as a Moon shot public project, or we will all lose.

We’ve Learned That Crises Response Matters

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Notice anything familiar about the pandemic and its effects on America? Warnings from scientists, those warnings ignored; selfishness that intensifies the problem; politicizing of the emergency; conspiracy theories spreading and a country not willing to face a crisis. Take a look at the economic toll, human toll, the overall chaos being generated and multiply that 100 times over. This is what awaits all of us, and/or our descendants from climate change.

Hopefully with a vaccine, or herd immunity, the COVID-19 pandemic will work its way through our world in the next year to 18 months. Disasters from climate change will last hundreds, if not thousands of human lifetimes. We have no idea how long it will take to correct climate change, if it’s even possible, how long it would take to get back to a safe CO2 level and what level CO2 will eventually reach.

We’re not talking about an economic disruption that will last a few years causing a recession, or depression; we’re talking permanent economic, societal collapse, or at the least drastic societal change. So, forget about a sustainable economy, society, country when massive droughts, fires and floods make food astronomically expensive, causing food shortages. If you think the George Floyd riots were bad, imagine a scenario where food is rationed, marshal law is declared to stop the violence that starvation will bring; especially in a country loaded up on guns.

Forget about imperfect, but peaceful coexistence between nations as their economies and societies crumble. Right at this moment, reliable sources of water are disappearing that sustain India, China and other countries around the world. What happens when those run out? Will there will be war? Will countries go to war over resources, possibly massive war, nuclear war? War is a predictable consequence when societies undergo colossal difficulties.

America needs to get it’s head out of the hole in the ground it dug for itself to face the COVID pandemic and so far, we’re not exactly pulling it off. The climate crisis is a far greater, longer lasting catastrophe and there needs to be a new, unified conviction to unify the country so we can face the threat and be successful. Maybe it’s the “Green New Deal”, I don’t know. It’s become such a political hot potato and maybe it doesn’t do everything we need anyway. Below are some steps I believe need to be taken to give us a chance of saving the future.

  1. Provide more help to inventors, entrepreneurs like me with clean tech business start ups. My company developed a new kind of electric vehicle. I got a grant from the state of Minnesota, which helped me immensely, but when I attempted going through the federal government granting process, (SBIR) it was too restrictive and did not help me, even though I have 2 patents on my technology and dozens of early customers. Several other countries help their green tech inventors more.
  2. Approach the climate crises like it’s a war. We have to have a ground strategy and a big idea strategy just like the US did in WWII. The ground game are things we can do now like planting billions of trees, converting to renewables, (solar, wind). The big idea is a Manhattan Project for scrubbing CO2 out of the atmosphere at a very high rate. A totally new kind of technology.
  3. Re-start the draft, using the young people as workers to do a lot of the labor. Soldiers in the climate crises war.
  4. How to pay for all of it:
    1. Seize the assets of the big oil companies and use the money to pay for a lot of this. Obviously, this will be an unpopular position, but this will happen anyway eventually when things get bad enough and the people are angry enough that the fossil fuel industry covered up the truth.
    2. Fully instate a carbon tax, carbon offsets program. Put a price on the waste that fossil fuel companies make, that being CO2. Begin a progressive fossil fuel tax that increases a bit each year.
  5. Set a date for complete phase-out of internal combustion engine cars. Several countries have already announced this.
  6. Finally – and this is most important – frame the whole thing like this: “America can do this. America can do anything when we set our minds to it. It HAS to be America to solve this because we are the best at this.”

Back In The Garage Again

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Recently, I reached out on Craigslist for some folks to give me help with a few projects on the Racer, (because why not, you’ll either find a great, smart hard working person, or a psychotic taxi driver). Luckily, I have found some great people from Craigslist, Lyon Smith who built the body and now Mark and Max who are helping with hardware and software engineering. In the next few weeks, I’ll post some pictures of what we’re doing. Mark and Max are great and I’m  lucky to be working with them.

We are working on several aspects of functionality of the car:

The pedal accelerator system – making a more robust, accurate pedal to throttle response.

The generator/pedal resistance system – improving functionality, adding terrain sensing and improving the exercise function GUI.

The brakes – tying all mechanical braking into one lever/actuator.

Replacing the handlebar steering with a D shaped racing wheel.

Outfit the whole vehicle with DOT compliant, motorcycle lighting.

No thanks, Mark

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My consultants, friends and other marketing experts tell me I HAVE to use Facebook. In this age of social marketing, social networking, that Facebook is mandatory, (as is Amazon). Thanks, but no thanks.

Facebook is clearly subverting responsibility for profit. Facebook makes money off advertising, which is no big deal, every publication does it. However Facebook will take money from organizations that have nothing but malicious intent. You don’t see lots of ads for white supremacists in Better Homes & Gardens. But with the way Facebook and other social networking platforms work, all kinds of bad actors can place ads that target very specific kinds of people. And the old, venerable newspaper and magazine just can’t do that.

I can’t in good conscience pay a company that, in my opinion is helping people attack our way of life. It’s one thing to just be on Facebook, (I’m considering leaving all together) and spend any ad dollars, it’s another to be a Facebook customer.

How?

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As we gaze in horror yet again at what happens to black people in America, we ask ourselves; “How soon till this happens again? When will it finally stop? What can we do to stop it? How do we stop it?” The brilliant Steven Covey said that we may know that we have to do and what we have to do, but not how to do it. And that is the hardest part.

The American myth of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” is just that – a myth. I know from my own experience that it is extremely difficult to make significant progress in your career without any outsider help, connections, contacts. I was born white, middle class, Jewish, well educated and still I have had a difficult time finding investors for Kronfeld Motors. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must be for low income African Americans to get into good schools, good jobs, good careers, or launching their own businesses. I can’t stand the phrase “It takes a village”, but it’s true.

Throughout my life I have seen friends succeed and become “made” men and women because of the good work they did and equally if not more importantly the associations that they had. Does anyone honestly believe George W. Bush became president because of how smart and gifted he was? Or Donald Trump? No, it was because of what they were born into. FDR and JFK for that matter, presidents we all can admire were born to wealth and privilege.

And it’s not just politics; Elizabeth Holmes, of Theranos, who cheated investors out of $100’s of millions was born rich, white, pretty, well connected. There is simply no way she could have sold her “better than Star Trek technology”, (thanks Thunderfoot), idea if she were born middle class, poor, black, etc. It was because of her family’s connections to wealth and power. She went to Stanford, but she obviously was better suited for community college and it’s where she would have been if not for what she was born into. Not that there’s anything wrong with community college.

We see over and over again examples of incompetent people being awarded golden parachutes for terrible performance, (Target, Boeing). This blatant truth is part of the fuel for the riots and protests; it’s not just about George Floyd, or police brutality; it’s continued and increasing BS. The lie that so many of the people at the “top” are really that bright, gifted, smarter than me and you – no, they were just born very white and very rich and we all know it.

No, no one is an island. No one is 100% responsible for great successes and achievements. Sure there are those that start from nothing and rise to serious leadership roles, (this is what gets me about political conservatives that love the “pulled myself up by my own bootstraps” myth – the last several Republican presidents were born to great connections and privilege Bush, Trump; while the last several Democrats were not – Obama, Clinton – okay, okay – yes Reagan wasn’t either) but the vast majority of successful people had some kind of help.

So back to the “How”. How do we solve the problems of inequity when so much of it boils down to what you were born into and the connections you have? This has to be one of the most challenging human questions of all time. And we can’t just throw money at it. The only thing I can think of right now as I hurriedly write this is that we all have to do something in our own lives. Hire an African American, shop at a black owned store or service, volunteer at organizations that help minorities. Just do something positive without waiting for someone else, or the government to do it.

The Fossil Fuel Industry: Total Disaster As Business Model

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It’s estimated that deaths from car pollution exceed 33,000 per year, (Union of Concerned Scientists). Now that we have become more aware of deaths, damage to the economy and overall harm to our country due to viruses as well as other contagious diseases, it’s time to include the actual, real pain that fossil fuel inflicts. From supporting totalitarian, oppressive regimes in the Middle East, to causing asthma in your children from the school bus they ride on, there is nothing, nothing good that comes from fossil fuels.

Think about it; all along the fossil fuel process, damage is left in its wake. The extraction process physically harms the immediate environment whether it’s being drilled out, or worse; ever hear of “mountain top removal?” Whichever process is employed to get at the oil, the infrastructure needed at the site adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Once extracted, the crude product has to be transported by truck, train and ship to refineries, which adds yet more CO2 to the atmosphere. Then, the refined product has to again be transported by trucks to gas stations, adding even more CO2. Fossil fuel companies enjoy special treatment from the federal government; incentives, tax breaks, policy maneuvers protecting them from competition, insulating their profit and planet damaging business model. And like the days of denial by politicians and tobacco executives about the death caused by their products, currently politicians and oil executives are pushing the exact same lies about fossil fuels; “It’s not that bad and think about the jobs it creates.”

Direct planetary damage, or “atmosphere as dumpster” as my friend and climate change hero Paul Douglas likes to say is just one hugely terrible part of fossil fuel’s “total disaster as business model”. The oil industry props up middle eastern autocrats, “petro-dictators” are able to rule absolutely mostly because of the unbelievable amount of wealth their kingdoms have amassed from oil. Additionally, in those countries that rely so heavily on one singular industry, (namely oil), creativity in other industries is stifled. The one “super industry” rules all else and smart, creative people organize around that one thing to the detriment of other business models, as well as artistic expression. Politics shift to accommodate the super industry; it gets all and whatever it wants, becoming so closely tied with business that democratic leadership of any kind is impossible. We’ve seen this here in the US, in cities that become super centers of one company, or one kind of company. Sure they provide jobs, but once that super company leaves, or goes out of business, the town is left hollowed out, destroyed. Vendors that rely too heavily on one, gigantic customer always put themselves at risk because once that sole customer finds a better deal, or goes out of business, the vendor is toast. Happens all the time.

Of course we don’t have exact numbers on how many people have been killed by petro dictatorships and oil companies, but it is very safe to say that they have caused immeasurable pain, suffering and death; just like the tobacco companies did and still do. The only way human civilization can move into a brighter future, or a future at all is to run away as fast as possible from fossil fuel.

Can human ingenuity beat a piece of self replicating RNA?

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As I sit down to watch movies with my family several nights a week now due to COVID stay at home, it strikes me that there will be many books, movies, songs that will emerge from this global emergency. When you take a moment to think about how much art has been created out of past desperate moments in our culture’s history; WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Cold War, Civil War, slavery, Great Depression, etc, you see the enormous effect that trying times have on people. Artistic creativity seems to flourish in us as we face anxiety. People need to express how they feel, it’s a deep human need to be understood.

Creativity also in a business sense expands during tough times. We invent solutions to the problems we face; countries build new, more powerful weapons when faced with the existential threat of war, indeed what we consider America’s greatest achievement – the Apollo program was a product of Cold War competition. And most business ideas start with some sort of problem solving need/desire on the part of the inventor.

As an inventor, I’ve had a few preliminary ideas and have seen several other inventor’s ideas in response to the pandemic. The amount of time, focus and work being invested into Sars-CoV2 research and care must be in the millions, perhaps billions of human-hours by now. With billions of people around the world focusing on this one, serious threat, who knows how many ideas will spring from this terrible moment. We all have to take a moment and think about the professionals working long, lonely hours combating Sars-CoV2 as health care workers on the front lines and researchers in labs and be confident that human ingenuity will triumph over a self-replicating strand of RNA.

Back to the Future Past

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In 2017, when this website was created and when I had just returned from the incredibly wonderful NMotion startup accelerator in Lincoln, Nebraska, things were going in a positive direction for my company, Kronfeld Motors. I had 25 reservations from 25 wonderful people who put down payments to reserve a vehicle. In addition to the reservations,  we had generated some great press and we had been recently featured on a TV series spotlighting cool, exotic new vehicles called Tech Toys 360, (on Netflix, I think we’re in episode #6); the show did an awesome job making the Raht look like an exotic supercar from the future, instead of the functional yet unrefined first prototype that it is.

That was then, this is after then. I owe all of the great people who fell in love with the Raht and followed me an explanation for my long silence.

Starting in the fall of 2017, numerous calamitous events befell my family. My dad was helping me load the Raht off of a trailer when a makeshift ramp I had stupidly placed at the edge, was not strong enough and broke. The rear of the Raht fell off the ramp and took my 87 year old dad with it. He had to go to the hospital. Thank God he was not seriously injured. However later that year, he became very ill, as did my mom and she began a horrible, torturous experience in the hospital which ended with her death in 2018.

In addition to these unhappy turn of events, when it came to the company and the Raht, there was something strange happening. In order to get the Raht into development for production, we had to raise money. A lot of money. To do this, required some creativity on my part, since I do not have friends in high places. Oh, sure I made pitches to investor groups and applied to a few funding sources/platforms, but I also tried making contacts, cold calling, emailing, snail mailing to people that might have had an interest in the Raht.

Now, I have been a show business entrepreneur most of my life. I’ve been very fortunate to work with really talented, good people who were also entrepreneurial in show business. We struggled, had some success, some failures, but eventually made progress overall. My experience with attempting to promote and find funding for Kronfeld Motors was unlike anything I’d ever encountered. Not only was I completely unsuccessful in finding anyone to help me fund the company, curious episodes would happen where someone I had reached out to was suddenly, inexplicably offended and people I had hired to help me in this regard were incompetent to the point of harming the company. In addition, I found myself making really stupid mistakes which led to more missed opportunities with potential contacts.

And work on the prototype fared no better. Ryan Anderson, my friend and lead engineer had re arranged his work situation, so he could work on the vehicle with me. In session after session, we would run into cascading electronic failures. Also a number of batteries in the vehicle failed and we did manage to successfully replace them, but progress on our control system was not to be had. Ryan, who has a beautiful, young family had to go back full time and use his engineering skills and great work ethic somewhere he could actually make money.

Finally, last year, I had no choice but to shudder the company. After thousands of dollars and hours into my dream as well as the dream of the people who helped me and all the supporters, I had to end it all and drive the Raht off a cliff, jumping out just in time and watch it explode into a fireball. No, wait, that was Bullitt, or maybe Star Trek 2009. Sorry.

Anyway, I’ve gone on too long and bored you to tears; TLDR. Now that we are all in an upside down world, I will sink a little time into looking for an investor again. Lots of great companies started in really bad economic times. A little company you might have heard of named Disney started in 1929, right at the beginning of the Great Depression. So who knows.

Thank you.

-R

Moving to a new location

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W hen it is a paradisematic country, in which roasted parts of sentences fly into your mouth. Even the all-powerful Pointing has no control about the blind texts it is an almost unorthographic life One day however a small line of blind text by the name of Lorem Ipsum decided to leave for the far World of Grammar. The Big Oxmox advised her not to do so, because there were thousands of bad Commas, wild Question Marks and devious Semikoli, but the Little Blind Text didn’t listen. She packed her seven versalia, put her initial into the belt and made herself on the way. When she reached the first hills of the Italic Mountains, she had a last view back on the skyline of her hometown Bookmarksgrove, the headline of Alphabet Village and the subline of her own road, the Line Lane.

“Far far away, behind the word mountains, far from the countries Vokalia and Consonantia, there live the blind texts. Separated they live in Bookmarksgrove right at the coast of the Semantics, a large language ocean. ”

Mr. NectarThemeNectar

but the Little Blind Text didn’t listen. She packed her seven versalia, put her initial into the belt and made herself on the way. When she reached the first hills of the Italic Mountains, she had a last view back on the skyline of her hometown Bookmarksgrove, the headline of Alphabet Village and the subline of her own road, the Line Lane. Pityful a rethoric question ran over her cheek, then.