In honor of National Autonomous Vehicle Day, Arrow Electronics is celebrating the success of its Semi-Autonomous Motorcar (SAM) Car Project, which has broken barriers to mobility for the disabled community.
Arrow launched the SAM Car Project in 2014 with former Indy race car driver Sam Schmidt, who was paralyzed from the neck down in 2000 after an accident during a practice lap. Despite not having the use of his arms and legs, Schmidt was determined to get back behind the wheel. The SAM car has helped Schmidt achieve his goal, allowing him to steer, accelerate and brake using only the motions of his head.
With the SAM car, Arrow has established a niche within the autonomous vehicle space, in which technology assists the driver, but does not take control from the driver. This is especially important for the disabled community because driving enables independence rather than convenience.
Schmidt performed his first test drive of the SAM car in 2014 and has been living life in the fast lane ever since. With Arrow’s help, he’s tackled the tight switchbacks of Colorado’s Pikes Peak, raced Mario Andrettiat the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and reached 190 miles per hour on the runway at Nellis Air Force Base, setting a new speed record for a semi-autonomous vehicle. The first quadriplegic to hold a restricted drivers’ license, Schmidt has also driven his kids on vacation last year, the first time he’s been in the driver’s seat with his family since sustaining his injury.
“We deliberately kept the driver in the Arrow SAM car. People with disabilities tell us they view them as bigger, faster wheelchairs. Having command over the vehicle with the help of technology gives people a sense of accomplishment, opening their minds to other possibilities. The technology gives people the chance to be the drivers of their own lives,” said Joe Verrengia, Arrow’s global corporate social responsibility director.
This year, Arrow is extending the opportunity for customers and selected disabled community representatives to drive the SAM car in demonstrations on closed road courses in 10 cities that coincide with the IndyCar races. Arrow sponsors the #5 car in IndyCar races in partnership with Schmidt Peterson motorsports and driver James Hinchcliffe.
The Arrow SAM Car Project also partners with several nonprofits focused on advocating for the disabled, including Conquer Paralysis Now, No Barriers and Paralyzed Veterans of America. A quintet of disabled veterans will drive the car this summer and be featured on the CBS television program Courage in Sports. The SAM car will also appear at the No Barriers Summit in New York City this October.