Semi-Autonomous Driving Tech Help Schmidt Drive With His Head

We hear and read often about semi-autonomous driving as a solution for traffic, but the technology may have a few other benefits.

Driving the first-of-its-kind car controlled only by his head, former IndyCar driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series Team owner Sam Schmidt will return to the track during the 2014 Indianapolis 500 Pole Day qualifications for the first time since he was paralyzed in a practice accident in 2000.

He will do so driving a modified 2014 C7 Corvette Stingray dubbed the SAM Project, standing for “semi-autonomous motorcar.” In doing so, Schmidt will become the first person with quadriplegia to drive a race car at speed using integrated advanced electronics.

The SAM Project anticipates that he will take four consecutive demonstration laps at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 18, prior to Old National Armed Forces Pole Day qualifying for the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

The SAM projects said the modified Corvette integrates the following technology:

  • Infrared camera system—four sensors mounted on Schmidt’s hat connected to infrared cameras mounted on the dashboard that detect his head tilt motions in order to steer and accelerate.
  • Bite sensor—Schmidt holds a device in his mouth and bites down on it to slow down or brake.
  • Computer system—a central processor collects signals from the camera system and bite sensor to control the car’s acceleration, braking and steering,
  • GPS technology—a guidance system that keeps the car within 1.5 meters from the edge of the track. Schmidt has a width of approximately 10 meters to steer within.
  • Safety system—a set of software algorithms that ensure commands sent to the computer system are real and defined within the vehicle’s limits.

The SAM Project is a collaborative venture between Arrow Electronics, Inc., Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Schmidt Peterson Motor Sports and Falci Adaptive Motorsports, a nonprofit.

Arrow is leading the development of the SAM car and the systems integration, as well as the engineering of specific systems for the car. Ball is leading the modification of the human-to-machine interface and driver-guidance system. The Air Force Research Laboratory is monitoring the driver’s biometrics during laps, as well as collecting data in how the driver interacts with the guidance systems. Dr. Scott Falci is serving as the project’s medical director.

“The SAM Project underscores the power of innovation in creating a better future for all of us, and what better setting to demonstrate automotive innovation than at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the proving ground for new technology since the turn of the 20th century,” said Michael J. Long, chairman, president and chief executive officer, Arrow. “Less than a year ago, a group of engineers and medical experts came together with the goal of getting Sam back into the driver’s seat after 14 years living with quadriplegia. We look forward to celebrating this historic moment with Sam.”

Following its demonstration, SAM Project said the vehicle will be brought to events for public inspiration and education, disabled community awareness and business development opportunities. The project also supports Conquer Paralysis Now, Schmidt’s foundation dedicated to finding a cure for paralysis.