SAM Car Demonstration in Toronto

SAM Car Demonstration in Toronto
(L-R) Joshua Forbes, Andrea Nelson and Barry Munro from CSRO had the chance to drive the SAM car developed by Arrow Electronics. (Photos: Sukanya Ray Ghosh)

Arrow Electronics recently held a demonstration of its highly innovative Semi-Autonomous Motorcar (SAM) in Toronto on the morning of Saturday, July 13.

The event took place in a parking lot of Ontario Place, with Arrow Electronics bringing in its two SAM cars at the venue.

The cars were designed as part of the company’s SAM project to equip quadriplegic and paraplegic people with the ability to drive race cars. Launched in 2014, the project kick-started to especially help Sam Schmidt, a quadriplegic former race car driver to once again have the capability to drive at high speed. Schmidt, who has been paralyzed since 2000 due to a racing accident, has been able to course through once again at speeds up to 300 kph on oval tracks, road courses and mountain summit runs. He first drove the car in a demonstration at the IndyCar Series in Indianapolis in 2014.

A SAM car driver requires to wear a headset that contains motion-tracking sensors. The driver can turn the car moving their head to the side in the direction they wish to go. The headset also has a sip and puff device attached to it. Blowing into the tube commands the Sip-and-Puff computer to accelerate. Sipping through the tube helps in braking.

CSRO participation

Participating in the demonstration of the SAM car was Barry Munro, Chief Development Officer at the Canadian Spinal Research Organization (CSRO). Munro, who is a quadriplegic, had the opportunity to drive the newer version of the SAM car, a 2016 Corvette Z06 that has been modified with additional electronics. The newer version was built to enable Schmidt to scale mountain peaks at race-car speeds.

“It was an awesome experience. I never thought that 32 years after my injury, I could be in a Corvette and drive it,” said Munro, after maneuvering the vehicle on the temporary track created at the venue. “This is an example of taking current technology that we all know about and converting it to helping people with disabilities to the point where people paralyzed from the neck down can drive a sports car on the road.”

Andrea Nelson, a paraplegic, and Joshua Forbes, a quadriplegic, both volunteers at CSRO, also participated in the demonstration. Nelson and Forbes were thrilled to be in the cars and drive them. In fact, after the experience, Nelson remarked that she felt like going back in again to take the vehicle around the track. “I felt very safe; it is definitely a well-engineered car. However, the system that they have is not ready for the market right now because it is definitely a learning step. I had allergies, so it was difficult to do the sipping and puffing, so there are barriers like that. But the technology is definitely relevant for getting people with disabilities back to doing what they did before,” said Nelson.

CSRO’s participation with Arrow is part of the organization’s growing campaign called “Paving the Way for a Cure”. “We are going to use every partner that we can and find friends in the automotive industry, including Arrow, to help us raise funds and fund technology and research so that people like myself can one day be well and be able to have all our functions back,” said Munro.

Donations to the cause can be made on the CSRO website.

Future of the technology

Discussing the vision for further applications of this incredible technology, Joe Verrengia, Global CSR & Reputation Leader, at Arrow Electronics noted that he wished that it would be used in utility vehicles such as shuttle cars, forklifts and other mobility devices that perform routine functions in the future. If this could happen in the future, it would help quadriplegic and paraplegic people maintain their independence and continue to work, according to him.

“This would open up a whole door for full employment. So many people with disabilities are unemployed because there are so many restrictions in the workplace. With this kind of advanced technology, it would open up doors where they could be as productive as any able-bodied person,” said Munro, commenting on this vision.

Speaking about the five-year journey of the project, Verrengia noted that the first car had certain kinks that were adjusted in the next one. Safety has always been a major part of the project since Arrow did not wish to endanger the lives of the drivers. The car’s systems are not perfect, but the technology has been improved and adjusted over the years. Although the SAM car is street-approved with Schmidt holding a licence to drive it, Verrengia admits that adapting the technology to regular street application would be challenging. The project, he says, was designed for high-speed racing applications.

All attendees at the event were given a chance to experience the SAM car and appreciate the technology that made it work.

This video of Schmidt driving up to the Pikes Peak summit in the U.S. demonstrates how the technology has helped him:

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