SAM Project – Technology To Benefit Humanity

The SAM Car Story

Daring To Dream

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.

Getting Started

In June 2013, engineers and medical researchers joined forces to work toward a common vision—modifying a car to be safely driven at speed by head movements for a quadriplegic race driver. This is a Semi-Autonomous Motorcar. We call it SAM.

In the project's first year, innovators at Arrow Electronics, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Falci Adaptive Motorsports and the Air Force Research Laboratory integrated separate steering, acceleration and braking controls into a seamless system. They transformed what seemed like an impossible dream into reality—and they did it in less than a year.

 

 

Figuring It Out

How do you modify a car so someone unable to move from his shoulders down can safely drive it? SAM engineers launched the project with a question—what if you turned the driver’s head into a joystick? In SAM version 1.0, Ball Aerospace provided a system of infrared cameras and sensors that track head movements in real time to do just that.

 

 

The Initial Concept

Arrow with it’s partners developed a system where 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.

 

Making It Work

Initial tests showed the system worked but encountered some problems near sunrise and sunset. At those times of day, the sun was low over the horizon and caused interference with the infrared cameras. Tinting the windows blocked enough light for the system to perform in any conditions. And the original cameras didn’t capture enough range of head motion to steer through tight turns.

Developing the infrared camera system was only the first step. Translating that sensory data into actual car movements required some innovation. For version 1.0, the Arrow team engineered a central processor that interprets the camera information and controls rotary actuators attached to the gas pedal, brake pedal and steering wheel. In version 2.0, the central processor and systems integration have been upgraded.

 

Finishing The Race

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.

 

Be The Driver of Your Life

This story isn't just about racing. Because driving is so much more than getting around a track or from point A to point B.

The SAM car is designed to restore independence, control and a sense of accomplishment to a qualified disabled driver. The technology breaks down barriers and opens new physical and emotional horizons. With a little help, we all can be the drivers of our own lives. 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.”

 

SAM Car Version 2.0

In version 2.0, Arrow and technology partner Freescale Semiconductor upgraded the infrared cameras to respond to the driver’s more nuanced head movements. Acceleration and braking are combined into a single mouth device, providing more realistic “pedal” response and improved transitions. Now the driver can navigate tight turns left and right, even while driving up and down hills, found on more complex road course tracks.

 

How The SAM Car Works

  1. Cameras & Sensors
  2. Sam Technology
  3. Steering
  4. Accelerating
  5. Braking
  • Cameras & Sensors

    The driver wears a racing hat fitted with eight infrared sensors. Inside the car, four infrared cameras are mounted facing the driver. The cameras and sensors integrate into a system that can motion-track the driver’s subtle head movements in real time. For the Long Beach race, we upgraded the cameras. With a wider field of view, the new cameras are now more sensitive and responsive to Sam’s motions.

  • Sam Technology

    We did something historic. Modified a car—a 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray—so a qualified quadriplegic driver can safely operate it under racetrack conditions. We call it SAM. A semi-autonomous motorcar. We’ve tested it on the track, learned from our success and optimized the system for improved performance. Take a look under the hood.

  • Steering

    The driver steers the car by looking in the direction he wants to go—on a curve, that’s the apex of the turn. The processor translates data from the camera and sensor to a rotary actuator on the steering wheel. The updates made to the SAM car for the Long Beach race give Sam more freedom and improved control over his “racing line.” That’s the most precise and efficient path that a race driver takes to complete a lap around the track.

  • Accelerating

    In version 1.0, the driver used the back of his head to press a sensor in the head rest, gradually accelerating in increments of 10 mph. In version 2.0, the driver now puffs breath into a mouthpiece equipped with a Freescale pressure sensor, specifically selected to be sensitive enough to respond to Sam’s input. 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.

  • Braking

    The same mouth pressure sensor is used for braking. Sam “sips” on the straw, creating negative pressure that the system translates into braking. The new system also gives Sam the ability to simply coast by not sipping or puffing.

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