When racer Sam Schmidt crashed at Walt Disney World Speedway ahead of the 2000 IndyCar season, he was diagnosed with quadriplegia, which effectively ended his racing career. But this weekend, advancements in technology mean the IndyCar team owner is racing a Corvette C8 up the hill at Goodwood.
Schmidt has had a longstanding partnership with Arrow Electronics, a Fortune 500 company that has sponsored Schmidt’s teams for years, and the two have been working together on developing a car that can be controlled by nothing but one’s head movements, which is much of what Schmidt can control.
Enter the Corvette SAM, or Semi-Autonomous Motorcar. Schmidt has been working on this since 2013, and he was able to make his first lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2014. Since then, he and Arrow have been implementing countless other improvements that have allowed Schmidt to travel faster and farther, with test runs at the Pikes Peak Hillclimb and road trips to iconic destinations. Schmidt’s home state, Nevada, has even issued him a unique driver’s license that allows him to legally operate these cars on the road.
Now, you can watch him make a lap at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which is taking place this weekend:
To control the car, sensors track the driver’s subtle head movements which correspond to specific actions in the car. The driver wears a hat fitted with eight infrared sensors that can be tracked by cameras and provide real-time feedback.
So, to decide where he wanted to go in the initial concept, Schmidt just had to look in that direction. To accelerate, he had to tilt his head and tap the headrest, which signaled acceleration in 10 mph increments. To brake, he bit down on a sensor between his teeth.
The concept has grown more refined over time with testing and advancements in technology. Now, Sam puffs breath into a mouthpiece that can sense pressure changes and which controls acceleration based on the amount of air pressure Schmidt creates. That same mouth pressure sensor is used in braking, but instead of exhaling, Schmidt sips air, and the changes in air pressure again dictate the force of braking used. He also has much better control over the racing line now.
Arrow has also used its team of dedicated engineers to provide Schmidt with an exoskeleton that allowed him to walk for the first time in over two decades and dance with his daughter at her wedding.