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Paralysed driver climbs new heights

Words by Smiley Team

Sam Schmidt became quadriplegic in 2000, when he crashed his car during practice at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando and injured his spinal cord.

Since then, he's been a huge advocate for accessible car driving and racing – as well as paralysis treatments – and in 2016, became the first American with a license to use autonomous vehicles on highways.

The Goodwood Festival of Speed is a celebration of motorsports and car culture held annually in the parkland surrounding Goodwood House in West Sussex. This year’s festival saw Sam, a former Indy Racing League competitor, conquer the iconic hill climb in a semi-autonomous (SAM) car designed by Arrow Electronics.

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So, what is the SAM car?

The SAM car is designed to give Sam back his independence, as he is able to control and operate it safely with just mouth and head movements and voice commands.

Infrared cameras were mounted on the dashboard to detect Sam’s head movements, allowing him to look left and right to steer the car. Acceleration and braking was controlled through a ‘sip and puff’ device, meaning Sam can control the speed of the car using his breathing.

It was in this incredible machine that Sam conquered the 1.16 mile course, a signature feature of the Goodwood Festival of Speed that has been around since the beginning.

Along with the modifications made to the 2021 McLaren 720S Spider sports car, Arrow had another ace up their sleeve that helped Sam to drive with independence. This was the SAM Suit, designed in partnership with robotic engineering researchers at Vanderbilt University, the suit acted as an exoskeleton to help support Sam’s body and help him to control the car.

Between these two cutting edge inventions the future of accessibility is here – and it’s brighter than ever.

Inspired to act?

DONATE: Give to Dusk Till Dawn, a charity which helps to provide people with disabilities the technology they need to improve their daily lives.

VOLUNTEER: Join AbilityNet as a volunteer to help make digital technologies accessible to everyone.


This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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