Technology that changes lives 

The human/machine interface

After Indy Car driver Sam Schmidt lost movement in his arms and legs following a car crash in January 2000, he accepted that his racing days were over. But in 2014, Schmidt was back behind the wheel on the racetrack at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, reaching speeds over 100 mph.

This was possible thanks to a project called the Semi-Autonomous Motorcar (SAM) which modified a 2014 Corvette C7 ‘Stingray’ so a qualified quadriplegic driver could safely operate it under racetrack conditions.  The SAM project will help inspire disabled people to realize they can be more independent with the help of technology and will be of crucial importance for a new generation of mobility and safety technologies.

What we did

Interface & guidance system provider

We led the development of the human-machine interface and the driver guidance system on the SAM project - the first technology of its kind to enable a severely disabled person to safely control and steer a car. This included the control algorithms, synthetic environment, and testing and evaluation of the system. Our team identified Schmidt’s abilities and matched them to what is needed to drive the car. Critical to this process was determining the best mix of machine-controlled and human-controlled functions.

Schmidt still has the ability to move his head, which allowed the Ball team to convert the driver’s head movements into computer code to steer, speed up and slow down the car. An infrared camera mounted in the car, and sensors placed on headgear worn by Schmidt, tracked the angle and movements of his head while a bite sensor device allowed him to slow the car down.
Sam Schmidt uses the SAM simulator.
Sam Schmidt uses the SAM simulator.

How it works

Part of a bigger effort

Our team tested the system in a racecar simulator to study the car’s movements in relation to the driver’s head movements and refined the human-machine interface. During the actual car run, all of the driver’s inputs were fed into the Ball-developed adaptive control processing unit, which then drove the car control computer interface which was designed by Arrow Electronics.

SAM is part of a wider company effort to explore human-machine teaming approaches that range from fully autonomous systems with no human input to minimally autonomous systems with primarily human inputs. Beyond empowering disabled people, these capabilities have both commercial and government applications.

The SAM Project Team

Air Force Research Laboratory
Arrow Electronics
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.
Falci Adaptive Motorsports
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

SAM Race Car Projct

Watch this video to get on the track with Sam Schmidt.