Newly-Modified Semi-Autonomous Car to Tackle a Road Track for First Time

Former IndyCar Driver and Quadriplegic Sam Schmidt to Train in Revamped SAM Car 2.0 in Preparation for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Apr 14, 2015 7:10 PM ET

Arrow Electronics and former IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt will participate in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, marking the first time that a vehicle designed for quadriplegic drivers will navigate the twists, turns and hills of a road course. 


The SAM (Semi-Autonomous Motorcar) Project is an innovative project in which a 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray has been modified with integrated advanced electronics and a human-to-machine interface so a qualified quadriplegic driver can safely operate it under racetrack conditions.  The SAM 2.0 phase in 2015 is a collaborative venture between Arrow Electronics, Freescale Semiconductor, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Conquer Paralysis Now.

The technology controlling the SAM vehicle can be summarized on one hand:

  • Infrared camera system  – four sensors mounted on the driver’s hat connected to infrared cameras mounted on the dashboard that detect his head tilt motions in order to steer.
  • Sip/Puff switch control  – the driver holds a device in his mouth, blowing air into a tube to accelerate and sipping air through the same tube to brake.
  • Computer system  – a central processor collects signals from the camera system and mouth device to control the car’s acceleration, braking and steering.
  • GPS technology – a guidance system that keeps the car within 1.5 meters from the edge of the track.  The driver has a width of approximately 10 meters to steer within.
  • Safety system – a set of software algorithms that ensure commands sent to the computer system are real and defined within the vehicle’s limits.

The sensors mounted on the driver’s hat reflect infrared light that is captured by cameras mounted on the car’s dashboard and track the driver’s head movement similar to computer animation systems used in box office movies.  The cameras capture head movements left and right to steer the vehicle. The vehicle’s windows have been tinted and feature infrared screening to optimize camera performance. In SAM 2.0, enhanced cameras, programming and networking enable more detailed recognition of the driver’s head movements. These enhancements allow the driver to navigate a complex road course.

A tube is attached to the driver’s head through a plastic mounting device that positions it conveniently in front of the driver’s mouth. The tube is attached to a Freescale integrated pressure sensor.  By blowing and/or sucking into the tube, the pressure sensor will instruct the system to apply the gas or brakes. No pressure results in the vehicle coasting.

As with standard global positioning systems, the SAM vehicle’s GPS system tracks the car’s movement according to a set path.  However, the system in this vehicle is different from standard GPS systems in that the path is approximately 10 meters wide, allowing the driver to steer within that range.  The GPS system is programmed for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and establishes “visual curbs” approximately 1.5 meters from each edge of the track.  The car is programmed to act according to the car’s GPS location by warning the driver to correct course if it approaches the visual curbs.  If the car continues to drift, the system gently auto-corrects the car to keep it on the track.

A set of algorithms establish real and defined limits for the vehicle to prevent unwanted head movements – such as a sneeze – to be translated by the computer system into unwanted driving commands.

The control processor bringing all of the technology together to operate the vehicle includes one computer system interpreting data from the positioning system, camera system and bite sensor, while a second camera system communicates instructions based on the data through actuators to control the vehicle’s standard steering, acceleration and braking systems. The communication between all systems occurs within milliseconds (the system updates 100 times per second) and is accomplished based on a series of software algorithms. In SAM 2.0, the CPs have been upgraded to Freescale's I.MX Quad core technology to allow for faster data transmissions and more complex algorithm computing  in a reduced power consumption and form factor.


Arrow Electronics
(NYSE: ARW) is a global provider of products, services and solutions to industrial and commercial users of electronic components and enterprise computing solutions. Arrow serves as a supply channel partner for more than 100,000 original equipment manufacturers, contract manufacturers and commercial customers through a global network of more than 460 locations in 56 countries. Based in Centennial, Colo., Arrow guides today’s innovators to a better tomorrow – a world of Five Years Out. Five Years Out is a community of builders, engineers and imaginers who navigate the path between possibility and practicality. Arrow is guiding the SAM project forward to improve mobility for the disabled and demonstrate the power of innovation. For more information about Arrow and the SAM project, visit  Social media hashtag: #SAMracecar

Freescale Semiconductor (NYSE:FSL) enables secure, embedded processing solutions for the Internet of Tomorrow. Freescale’s solutions drive a more innovative and connected world, simplifying our lives and making us safer. While serving the world’s largest companies, Freescale is also committed to supporting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, enabling the next generation of innovators.

Schmidt Peterson Motor Sports is a racing team owned by quadriplegic Sam Schmidt and partners. SPMS competes in both IndyCar and Indy Lights. SPMS’s priorities are for Sam Schmidt to safely drive at speed and to support the disabled community through his related charity, Conquer Paralysis Now.

Conquer Paralysis Now, a nonprofit organization, is a leading authority on spinal cord injury (SCI) research and treatment.  CPN is backed by an international coalition of medical doctors, research scientists and business leaders who share a singular goal: Finding a cure for paralysis.


Chris Blake
+1 (415) 613-1120