Sam Schmidt drives again

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Sam Schmidt uses new technology to allow him to drive at the 'Speedway.

Sam Schmidt has been in a chair, a quadriplegic since his 2000 IndyCar accident at Walt Disney Speedway in Orlando, FL. Nonetheless, he’s managed to field championship winning Indy Lights teams, earn victory for his Sam Schmidt Motorsports team with driver Simon Pagenaud.

On Sunday, May 19 Schmidt returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval in a car specially adapted for use by individuals that share his disability. It is, appropriately, called SAM. The SAM (semi-autonomous motorcar) Corvette C7 Stingray coupe has been specially modified with integrated advanced electronics and a human-to-machine interface to allow Schmidt to safely operate the car under racetrack conditions. In simulation training, Schmidt allowed he was able to circulate the oval at 217mph. There was, of course, a gleam in his eyes as he stated that fact.

The Stingray has an infrared camera system with four sensors mounted on Sam’s hat. They are connected to infrared cameras mounted on the dashboard that detect his head tilt motions, steering and accelerating the Corvette. There is a “bite sensor” in Schmidt’s mouth that he can use to slow or brake the car. The Corvette’s central processor collects signals from the camera system and bite sensor, thereby controlling the car’s acceleration, braking and steering.

GPS technology comes into play, as a guidance system keeps the car within 1.5 meters from the edge of the track - Schmidt has a width of about 10 meters that he can steer within. Finally, there’s a set of software algorithms that ensure commands sent to the computer system are real and defined within the vehicle’s limits. The project took a year from inception to reality.

Sam Schmidt drives at Indy
Sam Schmidt drives at Indy

Photo by: Anne Proffit

The SAM system is a collaborative venture between Arrow Electronics of New Palestine, IN, Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. from Boulder CO, Englewood, CO’s Falci Adaptive Motorsports and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Dr Scott Falci, a practicing neurosurgeon has been instrumental in leading research program in spinal cord regeneration and adaptive technologies for the disabled. The technology companies involved in this venture were excited to participate in an endeavor that could literally open car doors for the disabled.

The concept was presented at the Brickyard circuit prior to final practice before Pole Day qualifying. Once the 33 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers completed preparations for qualifying, Schmidt took to the track for his chance to drive around IMS once again - on his own and in a capable car. Suffice to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

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About this article
Series INDYCAR
Event Indy 500
Sub-event Pole Day
Article type Special feature
Tags arrow electronics, indianapolis motor speedway, indy 500, indy lights, quadriplegic, sam schmidt, simon pagenaud, walt disney speedway