Racecar Driver Sam Schmidt Tests New Arrow SAM Car

Sep 2, 2020 4:55 PM ET

CENTENNIAL, Colo., September 2, 2020 /3BL Media/ –  Arrow Electronics debuted the newest version of its Semi-Autonomous Motorcar (SAM) at a private racetrack in Indiana, where racecar driver Sam Schmidt took several high-speed laps in the modified 2020 Chevrolet Corvette. 

The SAM Car was developed for Schmidt, a former IndyCar driver who was paralyzed from the shoulders down after a racing accident in 2000. To help Schmidt reclaim his independence and drive again, Arrow engineers created a smart, connected vehicle that he can operate safely and independently using head controls and voice commands. 

While previous SAM Car versions were built on earlier Corvette models, the latest prototype is a C8 Stingray. The 6.2L 495 horsepower model represents the eighth fundamental redesign in Corvette history and the first to feature a mid-engine layout.

The Arrow SAM system does not replace the Corvette’s original systems but adds electronics that enable Schmidt to command the car.  

Engineers upgraded a number of SAM features, including expanding the number of cameras to more accurately track Schmidt’s head movements.  Four infrared cameras capture the driver’s subtle head movements by tracking landmarks on the driver’s sunglasses and helmet. 

Two more cameras are 3D “time of flight” mapping units that confirm Schmidt’s nose position while his head is moving to generate a centerline in the SAM computer for precise tracking. 

They are controlled and their data processed by new SAM programming.

Another design improvement is moving the driver to the right-hand seat.  This unorthodox position gives Schmidt considerably more room to enter and exit the vehicle using a lift, as well as room for engineers to install a racing seat and other safety features for higher performance driving.  

Right-hand seating also allows the safety co-driver to use the factory-installed steering wheel and pedals from the left seat for maximum control in case of an emergency. Previous SAM cars used auxiliary co-driver controls that were adequate but not as responsive as the Corvette’s original equipment.

Because of the new mid-engine layout, the C8 Corvette does not feature a flat rear deck like previous models. Arrow engineers faced a design challenge in reconfiguring the SAM electronics between the car’s trunk and “frunk” in a new layout.

The car’s test at the Putnam Park Road Course marked the first time Schmidt has driven the new model and his first time behind the wheel in the SAM program this year because of coronavirus restrictions.

He did not disappoint. In multiple laps on the tight and twisty Putnam track, Schmidt topped 120 mph and pulled 1.25Gs in the corners.

“The C8 is so much more drivable,” Schmidt said. “It’s so well-balanced.”

Schmidt has driven previous SAM prototypes at the 2014 Indy 500 and the 2016 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, but has also driven on public streets with a unique quadriplegic driver’s license. 

The ultimate goal of Arrow’s SAM Car project is to enable drivers with physical disabilities to experience the mobility and independence of driving again by leveraging the power of technology. The software and technology that Arrow developed for the car is open to the developer and engineering communities, and it has promising broader applications for independent living.

"This technology could eventually help a disabled person simply drive themselves to work—that's the one thing most disabled people want to do,” Schmidt said. 

For the past two years, Arrow has collaborated with Schmidt’s nonprofit Conquer Paralysis Now and his DRIVEN NeuroRecovery Center in Las Vegas to provide people disabled by military combat, spinal cord injuries, illness and aging, experience similar freedom in the Arrow SAM Car on closed courses. 

For more information about the SAM Car project, visit arrow.com/SAM/ or keep up with SAM project developments on Twitter by following #ArrowDriven.

About Arrow Electronics

Arrow Electronics (NYSE:ARW) guides innovation forward for over 175,000 leading technology manufacturers and service providers. With 2019 sales of $29 billion, Arrow develops technology solutions that improve business and daily life. Learn more at FiveYearsOut.com.