Paralyzed Racer Gets First Semi-Autonomous Driver’s License In The U.S.
Sam Schmidt is able to drive a car using only his head and his breathingby Kirby, on
Former Indy Racing League race winner Sam Schmidt became quadriplegic in 2000 when he crashed during testing at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida. The accident caused irreparable damage to his spinal cord, cutting short what was then a promising career. Fast forward to 2016 and Schmidt, the owner of the Verizon IndyCar Series team, is once again in the news, although this time, it’s for all the right reasons.
According to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, Schmidt will be the recipient of the country’s first restricted driver’s license for a semi-autonomous vehicle, paving the way for the former racer to drive a car using only his head, breath, and voice commands on state roads. His car of a choice is a heavily modified 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z06 that Arrow Electronics, a Fortune 500 company in Colorado, has been developing specifically for him since 2014.
Obviously, the Corvette doesn’t function like a traditional car. It runs through a headset that the Schmidt will be wearing, which in turn allows the former racer to control the vehicle by blowing into a tube attached to the headset so the car can accelerate. Conversely, inhaling allows Schmidt to control the brakes while moving his head will allow him to steer, thanks in part to four infrared cameras mounted on the Corvette’s dashboard.
Schmidt and Arrow Electronics have already made demonstrations of the car at several high-profile events in the past, including the Indy 500, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and the Long Beach Grand Prix. But with the license to drive a semi-autonomous vehicle that he’s about to get from the Nevada DMV, the former racer will have the opportunity to drive the Corvette Stingray, appropriately named SAM, on state roads.
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The advancements in automotive technology is amazing
This is the kind of news that’s worth reading because it shines the spotlight on a man and the advances in the auto industry that allows him to do things that he never thought he could do anymore. I can’t speak for him personally, but if I were in Sam Schmidt’s position and you told me that one day, I could drive again using my head and my breathing, I probably would’ve sneered in your direction.
But this is how far the industry has come and it’s something that’s really worth celebrating. Obviously, a lot of credit should also go to Arrow Electronics, which worked tirelessly with the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to develop the system that has allowed Schmidt to drive the modified Corvette.
I don’t know how much the technology will evolve from here or whether other people in similar positions as Schmidt will be able to afford it. Maybe at some point time, the tech can be made available for the public. What I do know is that this is an advancement that shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially if it allows people like Sam Schmidt to be able to do things that they thought they’d never be able to do.