There aren’t a lot of things about this industry that can drive us to tears, but we there will be at least some flowing down when we see former Indy Racing League driver Sam Schmidt get behind the wheel of a specially prepared Chevrolet Corvette Stingray at the Indy 500. If you don’t know, Schmidt was paralyzed in a racing accident 15 years ago. But thanks to the SAM (semi-autonomous motorcar) Project, Schmidt will once again find himself doing what he used to do best.
The SAM Project is a collaborative venture to use technology to get disabled drivers driving again and at the Indy 500, the group plans to unveil a specially designed Corvette Stingray race car that has been customized to include integrated advanced electronics and a human-to-machine interface, allowing the driver to essentially drive the car through head movement and brake by biting down on a pressure sensor.
It’s an incredible setup that will be shown in full focus once Sam Schmidt gets inside the car. The paralyzed driver will be wearing a unique hat that’s been dotted with reflective infrared markers, allowing Schmidt to steer the car using his head alone, tilting left or right to steer and backward to accelerate. The Corvette will come with a series of infrared cameras that will capture Schmidt’s head movements. From there, a CPU translates these movements and turns them into commands, relaying the information to actuators found on the Corvette’s steering wheel, accelerator, and brakes.
Incredibly, the car is safe to drive around the race track, an incredible feat that came from a collaboration of a number of tech companies, including Arrow, a supplier of industrial electronics components, Ball Aerospace & Technologies, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the non-profit Falci Adaptive Motorsports.
For all of the incredible work put in by these companies to develop this equally amazing Corvette, the attention will deservedly belong to Sam Schmidt. It’s been 14 years since that horrific crash Florida’s Walt Disney World Speedway that resulted in him being paralyzed so it’s absolutely amazing that he’s in this position now where he can, at least for one day, find comfort in his racing element.
He’s only driving four laps at the Indy 500 festivities, but make no mistake, it’s going to be the most emotional four laps the Brickyard has had in recent memory.
Click past the jump to read more about the 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray.