You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to SpringfieldNewsSun.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and interactive features. Starting at just 99c for 8 weeks.

X

Welcome to SpringfieldNewsSun.com

Your source for Clark and Champaign counties’ hometown news. All readers have free access to a limited number of stories every month.

If you are a News-Sun subscriber, please take a moment to login for unlimited access.

Paralyzed race-car driver takes Corvette for ride at Wright-Patt


Sam Schmidt is paralyzed and usually gets around in a wheelchair. He switched to a Corvette on Tuesday, thanks to some advanced technology.

Schmidt, 49, satisfied some of his need for speed when he drove a highly modified 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray on the 7,100-foot-long runway next to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The demonstration featured a semi-autonomous motor car, SAM for short. Schmidt controlled the Corvette through head movements to speed up and steer the rakish Stingray. A bite sensor in his mouth was used to slow the black sports car.

It was a first to show that a quadriplegic without the use of hands or arms can control a car under racetrack conditions.

Schmidt, who was left paralyzed from the shoulders down after crashing during a test lap at Walt Disney World Speedway in January 2000, vividly remembers the first time he drove the car last month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was the first time he had driven in more than 14 years.

“It was obviously exhilarating, motivating, brought tears to my eyes because I didn’t think I was ever going to drive again until we found a cure for paralysis,” he said, sitting outside the Corvette and hinting he’d like one day to race again.

“Being able to drive this car made me feel unbelievably normal again.”

He intends to drive the car in another demonstration this month on the Indy track.

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson, Arrow Electronics, Inc. and Falci Adaptive Motorsports (both of Englewood, Colo.), Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Fairborn and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in Indianapolis collaborated on the SAM demonstration, using mostly off-the-shelf commercial technology.

Development work on the project started less than a year ago.

“Sam’s goal for us was not to create a car that can drive itself,” said Glen Geisen, Ball Aerospace chief technologist on the project. “Sam wanted to control the vehicle.”

Behind the wheel, Schmidt wore a baseball cap with eight marble-sized silver reflective spheres. Four infrared cameras around the dashboard reflect light off the spheres to detect head movements that control the performance sports car.

For example, every time Schmidt moves his head forward and back, the car’s speed increases 10 miles per hour. When he tilts his head left of right, it steers the car in that direction. And when he bites on a sensor in his mouth, the car slows or stops.

The infrared technology is the same motion tracking system Hollywood has used in films such as Avatar, said Scott Grigsby, Ball Aerospace SAM project manager.

A co-driver sits next to Schmidt ready to take over if needed. A GPS system keeps the car to within a range of about 10 meters wide and at least 1.5 meters away from the edge of a track.

Schmidt spent hours in a virtual simulator, at one point “driving” at 211 mph using the system in an Indy car. At Indy, he expects to hit 80 mph.

“The whole thing was designed with safety in mind the whole time,” Grigsby said. “Sam’s abilities are a big part of this, too.”

Arrow Electronics integrated the complex systems, said Andrew Dawes, a company field applications engineer.

“The secret sauce, if you will, that puts everything together is the software,” Dawes said.

AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing tracked Schmidt’s biometrics to continuously monitor his heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, oxygenation and respiration.

“Human interaction with automation and supervision of autonomous systems is a huge interest for the Air Force,” said James Christensen, a 711th Human Performance Wing research psychologist.

The same methods could monitor the alertness of a pilot or drone operator with a growing number of tasks, or used in aeromedical evacuations, he said.

Air Force researchers have studied using the brain to control machines, Christensen added.

Schmidt, who founded the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, was frustrated with the years-long pace of finding ways to regain more limb functions, but he was optimistic the demonstration showed it was possible.

“If we get the right pieces, get the right minds working on it … I think we can solve this problem, too,” he said.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Military

Vets group appointee disputed
Vets group appointee disputed

Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck has asked for a Court of Appeals hearing to remove a recent appointee to the Montgomery County Veterans Service Commission, claiming the appointment process deprived the group from putting who it wanted on the five-member panel. The court document, filed late Friday afternoon by Heck’s office, contended the...
All-women skydiving team coming to Dayton Air Show
All-women skydiving team coming to Dayton Air Show

An all-women skydiving team will descend on the Vectren Dayton Air Show this summer and the Navy’s Blue Angels will return in 2018, organizers said. The Misty Blues All-Woman Skydiving Team will join long-time acrobatic champion performer Sean D. Tucker and a World War II-era F4U Corsair fighter plane as part of the line-up June 24-25 show headlined...
Wright-Patt directorate expects ‘spike’ in sales after big drop in 2016
Wright-Patt directorate expects ‘spike’ in sales after big drop in 2016

The Air Force Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate handled $8.1 billion in foreign military sales in fiscal year 2016, a drop of more than half from the prior year. AFSAC Director Brig. Gen. Gregory M. Gutterman expects the Wright-Patterson headquartered agency with more than 600 employees who handle deals with 108 countries to see a &rdquo...
Air Force Marathon registration down from last year
Air Force Marathon registration down from last year

More than 4,600 runners registered Monday to claim a spot in the 2017 Air Force Marathon, about 1,000 less than last year, according to an event organizer. But Marathon Director Rob Aguiar said he’s not worried about the slower start out of the running block. “Runners are making more choices,” Aguiar said. “I’m not overly...
QR codes help preserve detailed memories of veterans, fallen soldiers
QR codes help preserve detailed memories of veterans, fallen soldiers

“Quick response” codes have been around since the 90s, but New Carlisle resident Randy Ark and Dodds Monuments of Springfield are pushing to see the codes on more headstones and civic memorials. Ark, a Vietnam veteran, has undertaken the development of Veterans Park in downtown Springfield as his personal mission to preserve detailed memories...
More Stories