Archive for the ‘Project SAM’ Category

Project SAM gave a paralyzed racer his wheels back—and he took us for a spin

August 28th, 2017

Jonathan Gitlin

WASHINGTON—We’ve been for rides in quite a few autonomous cars of late, but today was something a little more special. Today, we went for a ride in Project SAM—short for Semi Autonomous Motorcar.

It all started back in 2000, when a promising racing career was cut short as a pre-season crash left Sam Schmidt paralyzed from the neck down. In the decade-plus since, Schmidt has gotten on with his life, and he now runs a successful IndyCar team. But as a quadriplegic, he’s been dependent on others for many things you or I take for granted—except driving, that is.

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Quadriplegic driver will get on the road again with semi-autonomous license

September 28th, 2016

Back in April, we told you about Project SAM, a Chevrolet Corvette specially modified by Arrow to enable the vehicle to be driven by Sam Schmidt. Schmidt is a successful IndyCar team owner these days, but he used to be an IndyCar driver until an accident in 2000 paralyzed him from the neck down. On Wednesday, Nevada—which has a reputation as an early adopter when it comes to automotive technology—issued Schmidt the first “autonomous vehicle restricted driver’s license.”

Project SAM works with a combination of head tracking (for the steering) and a sip-and-puff controller for the throttle and brake. The system is sensitive enough to let Schmidt actually drive the car to its potential; at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb this year, Schmidt gave a demonstration run up the mountain on race day. His co-driver, Robby Unser, confirmed to Ars that Schmidt did not take things easy.

However, Schmidt’s license does come with a few restrictions. For one thing, like the autonomous vehicle testing licenses granted by the state to Google, it’s only valid within Nevada. Also, Project SAM can’t go out if there’s snow or ice on the road, and there needs to be a pilot car ahead as well as a licensed driver ready to take control of the Z06 if necessary.

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Long after his accident, Sam Schmidt takes the wheel again thanks to Project SAM

April 23rd, 2016

Sam Schmidt smiles from the driver’s seat of Project SAM, the Corvette Stingray that’s been modified to let him drive it, despite being paralyzed from the neck down. (credit: Arrow)

In the late 90s, Sam Schmidt had a promising career as an IndyCar driver, finishing fifth in the championship in 1999 after taking his first win in Las Vegas. In off-season, however, his ascension in the sport was derailed. During testing that following January, an accident at Walt Disney World Speedway in Florida left Schmidt a quadriplegic.

In the years since, Schmidt has continued to go racing but as a team owner. He’s watched from the pit as drivers like Simon Pagenaud and James Hinchcliffe brought home glory for Schmidt Peterson Motorsport. But recently a collaboration with his team’s title sponsor, Arrow Electronics, has placed Schmidt back where he belongs—behind the wheel of a car on track.

The car is a 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, and the initiative is called Project SAM for “Semi-Autonomous Motorcar.” However, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a self-driving vehicle. Instead, the core of Project SAM is about mapping the dynamic range of the car’s inputs—steering, throttle, brake—and translating them to a different control format, in this case one suitable for a quadriplegic driver. “We needed to be able to control any feature of the car by using electronic signals and software,” said Chakib Loucif, Arrow’s VP of engineering.

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