Arrow SAM Project

Doctors told Sam Schmidt he'd never move his arms or legs again. They didn't say anything about driving.

Sam is a former Indy Racing League driver. He made 27 career starts, winning at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1999. On January 6, 2000, Sam crashed during a practice lap at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, severely injuring his spinal cord. He was diagnosed as a quadriplegic. In 2001, Sam founded Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. His team earned the Indy 500 pole in 2011 and has won more Indy Lights championships than any other team.

Despite his success as an owner and businessman, nothing compares to being behind the wheel. So in 2013, Sam agreed to partner with a team of Arrow engineers determined to make his dream come true—Sam would drive again.

Arrow Electronics set out to modify a car to be safely driven at speed by head movements for a quadriplegic race driver. In less than a year, we turned an impossible dream into reality. We modified a car—a 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray—so a qualified quadriplegic driver can safely operate it under racetrack conditions. We call it the Semi-Autonomous Motorcar, better known as SAM.

 

The driver wears a racing hat fitted with eight infrared sensors. Cameras and sensors integrate into a system motion-track the driver’s subtle head movements in real time. The driver steers the car by looking in the direction he wants to go. The processor translates data from the camera and sensor to a rotary actuator on the steering wheel.

For acceleration and braking, the driver sips and puffs breath into a mouthpiece equipped with a Freescale™ pressure sensor. The car responds directly via a rotary actuator attached to the gas pedal. The gas pedal is depressed based on the amount of air pressure Sam creates, giving him full control over acceleration—from a smooth gradual increase to a quick burst of speed. The same mouth pressure sensor is used for braking. Sam sips on the straw, creating negative pressure that the system translates into braking.

On May 18, 2014, Sam drove for the first time since his accident in 2000, reaching 97 mph at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A week later, he completed more laps at Indy, reaching a top speed of 107 mph. This past December, Sam raced in the iRacing Pro Race of Champions organized by CXC Simulations. Competing with able-bodied drivers, Sam finished 16 of 25.This technology breaks down barriers and opens new frontiers. With a little help, we all can be the drivers of our own lives.

On June 26, 2016, Sam tacked the bottom half of the challenging 12.42 mile, 4,725 ft. Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, which included dozens of twists and hairpin turns, after the 102 official racers and drivers completed their races. The climb captivates auto enthusiasts around the world. It was the perfect place to showcase the inspiring capabilities of Sam Schmidt and Arrow’s SAM car project.

In the words of Joe Verrengia, Arrow’s global director of corporate social responsibility, who oversees the company’s award-winning SAM project, “We hope the SAM car continues to drive technology innovation forward and inspire people to dream big because, as Sam showed us all [at the climb], anything is possible.”

Learn more about the Arrow SAM Project