Fourteen years ago, IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt had a track accident 14 years ago left him unable to move anything below his shoulders, but technological advances have allowed him to drive a 2014 Corvette Stingray this week at National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH.
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory unveiled new technology yesterday that will allow Schmidt to drive the modified Corvette at Indianapolis Motor Speedway later in May.
Aerospace & Cyberspace Technologies senior business manager for Ball Aerospace, Tom Choate, says, “In our work for the Air Force, we’re engineering technologies to prevent and lessen future injuries by learning how humans can effectively interact with machines. These technologies are designed to restore independence and enhance warfighter autonomy, and have the added benefit of introducing a new generation of mobility and safety technologies that are critically important for disabled individuals.”
Ball Aerospace’s engineers had to determine a way to convert Schmidt’s head movements into computer commands that allow him to accelerate, steer, and brake the Corvette. They created a human-machine interface and driver guidance system based on Schmidt’s abilities and matched them to what was needed to drive. A strategic balance of human- and machine-controlled functions was crucial to its success.
Their efforts have resulted in the first track car modified with advanced electronics and a human-to-machine interface that is controlled by the driver’s head, which could eventually trickle down to the street and assist other folks whose mobility is limited by paralysis.