Tech helps paralyzed race car driver get back on track
On Jan. 6, 2000, a racing accident left IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Twenty years later, Schmidt is driving again at speeds up to 192 mph. To help Schmidt reclaim his independence and drive again, engineers at Arrow Electronics modified a Chevrolet Corvette to create a smart, connected vehicle that he can operate safely and independently.
Known as the Arrow SAM Car – SAM stands for semi-autonomous mobility – Schmidt controls the Corvette on the racetrack or city streets using head controls and voice commands.
Head motions, breath let him steer and brake
Sensors on an Arrow-designed headset that Schmidt wears connect to infrared cameras mounted on the dashboard and detect his head motions to steer. A sip-and-puff device enables him to accelerate and brake using his breath.
“This technology has created a freedom that I never thought I would feel,” Schmidt said. “Absolutely anything’s possible. This project proved that to me.”
Recently, Schmidt approached the 20th anniversary of his racing accident by tracing the 2.5 mile Freedom Trail, a route connecting historic landmarks in Boston.
Broader applications possible
The objective of Arrow’s SAM Car project is to enable drivers with physical disabilities to experience the mobility and independence of driving again by leveraging the power of technology. The software and technology that Arrow developed for the car is open to the developer and engineering communities, and it has promising broader applications for independent living.
For the past two years, Arrow has collaborated with Schmidt’s nonprofit Conquer Paralysis Now and his DRIVEN NeuroRecovery Center. Now, people disabled by military combat, spinal cord injuries, illness and aging are able to experience similar freedom in the Arrow SAM Car on closed courses.
Other drivers get involved
In October 2019, eight disabled drivers got behind the wheel of the SAM Car at the “Drive to Conquer Paralysis” fundraiser in Las Vegas. The drivers, clients of the neurorecovery center, used the head controls to drive at SpeedVegas, a 1.5 mile racetrack in Las Vegas. The event also provided an opportunity for guests to ride in the SAM car with Schmidt.
Schmidt first drove the Arrow SAM Car in demonstration laps on the iconic oval track at the 2014 Indy 500. In the subsequent five and one-half years, Schmidt has driven the SAM car on several road course tracks and the 12-mile summit road at the 2016 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. He has been driving on public streets with a unique quadriplegic driver’s license since late 2016, thanks to a collaboration between Arrow and Schmidt’s home state of Nevada.
For more information on the project, visit arrow.com/SAM/ or keep up with SAM project developments on Twitter by following #ArrowDriven.
Arrow Electronics (NYSE:ARW) develops technology solutions that improve business and daily life. Learn more at FiveYearsOut.com.