Quadriplegic former IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt will steer a specially modified Chevrolet C7 Corvette Stingray around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for four laps prior to this year’s Indy 500 race.
The modified Corvette is part of Arrow Electronics’ SAM (semi-autonomous motorcar) project. This special ‘Vette features an in-cabin infrared camera system that monitors the driver’s head movements via a series of reflective markers fitted to a hat.
Schmidt will angle his head backwards to accelerate, and control the steering by tilting his head to the left or right. A pressure sensor placed in Schmidt’s mouth allows him to modulate braking force. SAM’s computer monitors the driver’s commands, and operates the car’s steering, accelerator and brakes accordingly via rotary actuators.
External GPS antennas fitted to the Corvette precisely monitor the car’s position. If the car passes preset virtual curbs, which are set one metre in from the edge of the track, the semi-autonomous Corvette will automatically take corrective action. As a further backup, a safety officer with access to secondary controls will ride shotgun with Schmidt. If needs be, engineers in pit lane can remotely bring the car to a standstill.
Sam Schmidt came late in life into the world of IndyCar racing, starting his first race in 1997 at the age of 33. He netted his first and only victory in 1999 in Las Vegas. During off-season testing in 2000 he crashed at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Florida. He spent five weeks hooked up to a breathing machine and was declared a quadriplegic.
Currently he operates the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, that aims to find a cure for paralysis, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which competes in both the IndyCar and feeder Indy Lights series. The team has won the Indy Lights competition seven times in the last decade.
The 2014 Indy 500 race will take place on May 25.