Recently, a man named Sam Schmidt drove a C8 Corvette around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While that certainly sounds like a great experience, but nothing too extraordinary, consider the fact Sam Schmidt is a quadriplegic. The Drive recently got to go for a ride with Schmidt around Indy, providing us with some incredible details from this one of a kind Corvette Stingray.
And when we say go for a ride, The Drive’s Jerry Perez actually sat in the drivers seat while Schmidt drove on track, up to 120 mph. Because Schmidt has been paralyzed from the neck down ever since an Indycar crash in 2000, he has no reason to use traditional car controls. Instead, he drives using some highly sophisticated software and hardware he designed with a company from Colorado called Arrow Electronics.
This is actually the third Corvette they’ve built with Schmidt, and it’s called SAM III. While SAM obviously relates to Schmidt himself, it stands for Semi-Autonomous Motorcar. The first two SAM cars were based on the C7 Corvette Z06, making the transition to the C8 a generational leap, and a quite the feat, especially considering how hard it is to mess with anything electronic in that car.
To drive with no use of his arms or legs, Schmidt uses some very clever tech and controls. An array of 6 camera’s monitors his every move. The top four are infrared, while the bottom two are time of flight cameras used for 3D terrain mapping. Here, they monitor Schmidt’s centerline from his nose for steering inputs. The infrared cameras track tiny black dots on his sunglasses to track head movement, which he uses to steer. This system is just like what video game designers use when tracking human movements for a game, or what the original James Cameron Avatar movie used back in 2009.
With steering taken care of, Schmidt accelerates and brakes using a tube that he holds in his mouth. To speed up, he sucks in. When he needs to slow down, he simply blows out. With these systems, Schmidt can drive his C8 Corvette better than the average person around a track; he was a racing driver after all.
But more importantly, Schmidt can feel the freedom of driving. It’s priceless, in a world where everything has to be done for him. He has even earned himself the nation’s first semi-autonomous drivers license. Better yet, there’s a chance the research in the SAM projects will trickle down into the consumer market, and other quadriplegics can once again drive a car.