Fourteen years ago, Sam Schmidt was lapping the Walt Disney World Speedway while preparing for the upcoming Indy Racing League season when he crashed. He spent five weeks on a respirator, and when he did come off, he discovered that he'd lost the use of his arms and legs.

Despite this, he hasn't left the sport that he loves. He's the co-owner of Schmidt Petersen Motorsports, which has counted among its drivers Simon Pagenaud, Katherine Legge, Alex Tagliani and the late Dan Wheldon.

At this year's Indianapolis 500, Schmidt will be back behind the wheel, handicap be damned. He's teamed with Arrow Electronics, who has put together a semi-autonomous Chevrolet Corvette Stingray for Schmidt to lap at the Brickyard.

Arrow, along with Ball Aerospace, Schmidt Peterson, the US Air Force Research Lab and non-profit Falci Adaptive Motorsports has developed a user interface that will allow a driver to control a car simply by moving their head. According to our tech savvy friends at Gizmodo, the system works with infrared markers and overhead cameras to measure how and where a driver's head moves. Basically, Schmidt will turn his head right or left to turn, which makes sense. He can also bite down to brake or tilt his head back to accelerate.

For extra safety, the car, called SAM (short for semi-autonomous motorcar), is fitted with a GPS system that will keep Schmidt at least three feet from Indy's notorious walls. There will also be a human backup in the passenger seat that will be able to step in if any of the systems fail.

Paraplegics have been able to drive through hand controls for some time. It's heartening to see quadriplegics begin to regain the same abilities. Here's hoping Schmidt's Indy outing is a success.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 5 Comments
      AcidTonic
      • 7 Months Ago
      As a software developer who has already dealt with some pretty nasty carpal tunnel issues, I LOVE the idea that he gets to do this. I was in hell with major pain in both hands so bad that I couldn't open a door knob or drive my car when it first happened. Then afterwards I had to give up any computer gaming because I was in pain after 2 minutes of playing. I had to use dictation software to stay working and let me tell you that they all suck for programming. "left bracket, right bracket, left paren, quote, no double quote, damn". None of them work right. I wanted to develop a better tool but was already broken. The feeling that you want to do something but you cannot is absolutely maddening. Especially when it's long term and you have to give up something you enjoy. This guy must be a hundred times more miserable than I was and my condition eventually healed after a few years of steady but disciplined breaks and keyboard timers. So props to the guys building tools for disabled people. I'm glad that people are there to make this dudes life easier for even one day. A+
      Brett Bertrand
      • 7 Months Ago
      All of a sudden.. He sneezes and the backup human takes control.
      johnnyhedwardsjr
      • 7 Months Ago
      What if he yawns or sneezes or has to look around. What if the car vibrates too hard and his head moves violently for a second. What if he has to burp or a fly lands on his face. It doesn't seem too safe. This is an extremely long race.
        Neez
        • 7 Months Ago
        @johnnyhedwardsjr
        I'm pretty sure he'll just be driving the pace car at the indy 500, which is limited to slow speed anyways. It's the whole tire warming session which is dangerous because everyone zigs and zags to warm up the tires.
      carguy1701
      • 7 Months Ago
      Cool.