152 mph Hands Free at Indy

152 mph Hands Free at Indy

Conquer Paralysis Now – a global project of the Sam Schmidt Foundation – is an outstanding TSF Grant Partner. This Memorial Day weekend marks the 100th running of the famed Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On May 23rd, Sam had two huge thrills – his race team claimed the pole through driver James Hinchcliffe and then Sam completed his own four laps of the famed oval without touching the steering wheel. Learn more about Sam and the truly amazing research & development underway to “help cure paralysis”.


By: David Malsher, US Editor, 2016-05-23

Yesterday Sam Schmidt saw James Hinchcliffe claim his team’s second Indy 500 pole. But no less significant were Sam’s own four laps of IMS, resetting the speed record for semi-autonomous cars. David Malsher reports.

Driving a Corvette Z/06 to a top speed of 152mph, and lapping IMS at an average of 108.642mph, Sam Schmidt yesterday completed his own four laps of Indianapolis Motor Speedway without touching the steering-wheel.

Schmidt, who was rendered a quadriplegic after an Indy car shunt at Walt Disney World Speedway in 2000, two years ago set the semi-autonomous motorcar [SAM, appropriately] speed record in a 455hp Corvette Stingray, reaching a top speed of 107mph. Yesterday’s record was set in the Z/06 version of the Corvette which produces 650hp, again using a system created by Arrow Electronics. The company serves as primary sponsor on Schmidt Peterson’s #5 IndyCar driven by James Hinchcliffe, which four hours later claimed pole for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Yup, Sunday was a seriously big day for Sam, Arrow, and everyone associated with them.

The semi-autonomous system uses motion capture technology, as used in a lot of video gaming and involves Sam steering the car with his head, and blowing down a tube to apply the throttle, and sucking on it to apply the brakes.

However this is a radically different system from the one with which Schmidt set his original record, as Noel Marshall, lead engineer of a team of eight, explained to Motorsport.com.

“The original system used head tilt technology for gas and brakes,” says Marshall, “where Sam tilted his back to increase speed in 10mph increments. It took him a while to get up to speed and he didn’t have that direct control, but now he uses the sip-’n’-puff tube, he can nail that gas.

“We learned a lot from that first run, and it was Sam who suggested the change and we’ve found it is the most user-friendly of the many different systems we considered.”

Another engineer, Grace Doepker explains: “There is another change since the 2014 record. Sam has a new steering sunglasses-type headset, instead of the original baseball cap with sensors. The infrared cameras mounted on the Corvette’s dash can read the sensors on his sunglasses more accurately because the glasses are more rigid; we retro-fitted a regular pair of sunglasses with the markers and put them more in front of the camera. Sam sits very high in the car, so some of the sensors on the hat had been difficult to read.”

And if you’re wondering about unusual movements such as if Sam sneezed while driving, the motion cameras only detect left and right, so a typical sneeze movement back and forth wouldn’t be registered.

Arrow’s goals for this record attempt were “to showcase this technology that is essentially off-the-shelf,” says Marshall. “How do we continue to repurpose what’s already out there to help others? How do we take this further?’

“We want people to consider various ideas and think outside the car. Perhaps similar technology could be used by people who have become paralyzed to get them back into the workforce and able to work machinery that they might not otherwise have been able to do.”