Semi-Autonomous Corvette Earns Its Place In Automotive History

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It can be controlled using nothing but head movements.

Sam Schmidt was a promising talent in the Indy Racing League in the late 1990s when a tragic accident during the off-season left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Amazingly, he still drives - just not in Indy anymore.

That's thanks in large part to the wizards at Arrow Electronics, who started collaborating with experts in aeronautic systems, flight medicine, and spinal injury medicine back in 2013 to modify a regular production Chevrolet Corvette into something that could be driven safely at speed using only head movements. The result was a 2014 Corvette Stingray dubbed SAM - for "Semi-Autonomous Motorcar" - which is now on display at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak

From the outside, you might never guess that SAM is in any way remarkable or different from the myriad other 2014 Chevrolet Corvettes produced by GM. It's equipped with a unique vinyl wrap, with a matte black finish punctuated by highly reflective gold accents on the rockers, side vents, A-pillars, and a few other places, and it features a big white ARROW script on both doors. Look a little closer and you may spot a pair of enclosed sensors mounted alongside the roof, one over each of the rear side windows - your first real indication that the car is in some way special.

Special because inside the cabin is a clever control scheme that integrates separate steering, acceleration, braking, and GPS navigation into one cohesive, seamless head-movement control system. Hand and foot inputs aren't needed to drive the car.

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Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak

The car's inaugural demonstration run occurred at the 2014 Indy 500, with Schmidt at the wheel, achieving a top speed of 107 mph. Since then, Arrow has only gotten better at making unique driver control systems, and Schmidt has only gotten more used to using them, so that to date, the former Indy driver has tested cars at the Bosch Proving Grounds, driven the world-famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and hit a top speed of 192 mph in a demo run with the USAF Thunderbirds.

This year marks a big one for Schmidt as 2020 will see the driver return to racing for the first time in two decades, driving an Arrow-modified SAM based on the new mid-engine C8 Corvette in the USCA race October 10-11. You can see the car that started it all now, at the National Corvette Museum.

Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak

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