Sam Schmidt and the Amazing Hands-Free Driving Controls

samAn amazing advancement has occurred in the driving world. A quadriplegic paralyzed from the shoulders down is driving a car completely on his own again, and this revolutionary quadriplegic is Sam Schmidt.

Maybe you’ve heard of him. He was a rising Indy car racer was paralyzed 14 years ago while racing in the Walt Disney Speedway. He hit a wall and was instantly paralyzed from the shoulders down, but he didn’t stay out of the motorsports world for long. One year after his injury he returned to the Indy racing scene with his very own team — Schmidt Motorsports.

And now 14 years after his injury, a miracle has occurred. He has returned to the driver’s seat, driving a 2014 Corvette Stingray with 460 horsepower. But it wasn’t his idea to put himself back out there. No, it was Arrow Electronics, a relatively new adapted driving technology company based out of Colorado. They contacted Sam eight months ago asking if he’d be interested in their latest advancement, and they’ve dubbed Sam’s setup the SAM Project.

By using four strategically placed infrared cameras in the cabin by the steering wheel, they are able detect Sam’s head movements so he can steer the car. If he tilts his head to the left, the wheel steers left, and it’s the same for going to the right. This is some fine-tuned impressive stuff, and it works. To accelerate, he just needs to tilt his head back. For the cameras to read his movements, Sam wears a ball cap with small reflective balls.

To put on the brakes, Sam bites down on a pressure sensor, and the brakes will be activated within milliseconds. The same goes for the acceleration. This entire setup is pretty awesome — after the camera reads his movement, it’s sent to a computer that controls the rotary actuators.

And to be extra safe, Arrow has also installed a GPS unit in the back of the car that constantly checks the car’s location, which it does 100 times per second, to make sure he is in a safe place on the track. The main purpose of this is to let Sam know if he is less than 1 meter from the edge of the track.

So far, Sam has completed 25 laps using Arrow’s driving setup and he says it feels “pretty natural.” While I’m sure it doesn’t feel like what it used to feel like before his injury, it’s still pretty awesome it exists. And even more so, the fact he can do it makes it a winner.

And even better — the driving setup has a built-in safety mechanism. If anything goes wrong, from Sam’s controls not working to the car just running out of gas, the pit crew can shut down the car remotely. A true car of the future, Sam’s car is giving hope to millions.

What advanced driving controls have impressed you over the years?

Learn more about the SAM Project

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