May 5, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
On January 6, 2000, Indy Racing League driver Sam Schmidt’s life forever changed when he became a quadriplegic after sustaining a severe injury to his spinal cord in a testing crash at Walt Disney World Speedway.
Since then, Schmidt (pictured, left, with one of his drivers, Simon Pagenaud) has become of the top team owners in open-wheel racing, creating a championship dynasty in the Indy Lights series and a two-car outfit in the top-tier Verizon IndyCar Series.
Additionally, he has worked tirelessly through the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation to help find an eventual cure for paralysis through funding research and medical treatment.
Now, Schmidt has been called upon to help unveil an innovative new technology that could enable other quadriplegics to one day get behind the wheel again.
Later this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Schmidt will take control of a 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray that has been outfitted with special electronics and an interface that will enable him to brake with a bite sensor and also steer and accelerate in intervals with a simple tilt of his head.
Naturally, it’s called the “SAM Project” – that’s Semi-Autonomous Motorcar.
“I had two requirements, and the first was to stay safe,” Schmidt told Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star. “The second was that I had to be the one driving the car.”
Turns out Schmidt also had a third requirement as well: “I must average over 100 mph…(The engineers) laughed,” he added.
Multiple companies collaborated on the SAM Project, and the tech involved is impressive.
According to Cavin, Schmidt’s headwear features four sensors that transmit information to infrared cameras on the dashboard. In addition to the bite and head sensors for braking, steering and accelerating, the car has GPS technology that will keep Schmidt at least 1.5 meters from virtual curbing and within a steering width of 10 meters.
Engineers can also take over the car remotely if things go awry on Schmidt’s demo, which is slated for Indianapolis 500 Pole Day on May 18.
As Yahoo! Autos’ Justin Hyde notes, we’re still a ways off from self-driving systems being approved for use among both the able-bodied and the disabled. But the SAM Project could herald a potential breakthrough that can add to the quality of life for many people.
It’s a worthy endeavor to pursue, and it’s only fitting that Schmidt, a guy who has proven his courage and determination many times over, is helping the cause.
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