Technology puts paralyzed racer back in the driver’s seat Page 2

Schmidt thinks it’s ironic that the project was named SAM long before he became involved. His involvement came after Arrow asked a Denver neurosurgeon to recommend someone to try out the technology. The surgeon knew Schmidt’s story and suggested Arrow call him. The company did. At first, Schmidt said, he thought he was being punked.

But that was before his car was equipped, and he drove at speed again around the Brickyard, and raced up the 14 miles and 156 turns with almost no guard rail on the road up Pikes Peak, with multi-time hill climb champion Robby Unser riding shotgun — “Talk about faith in technology!” Schmidt smiled.

Chart next to Schmidt’s car at the SEMA Show details technology installed

Chart next to Schmidt’s car at the SEMA Show details technology installed

Enlarge Photo

Schmidt can drive using head movements and with a straw-like device that he bites to slow and brake and blows into to accelerate (see Jay Leno’s Garage video below).

“I didn’t expect the sensation of being normal, of being in control,” he said of his reaction to driving again.

“We’re witnessing a technical revolution,” he added. “Put the right people in the room and give them the resources and a goal and it can change lives, it can save lives.

“Anything is possible.”

While Schmidt may be the first to receive a semi-autonomous driver’s license, he’s not the first driver to benefit from driver-assist technology. Consider all the new cars rolling out of dealerships with anti-lock brakes and smart cruise control and, yes, lane-change assistance.

But it’s not only new vehicles that can be so equipped. During the show, SEMA shared with its members a 73-page document, the “SEMA Advanced Vehicle Technology Opportunity Study,” that suggested a new growth industry for its membership.

A-das is what SEMA is calling such Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, which it adds is “new technology for old cars,” and part of what it sees as “the billion-dollar tech transformation” with some 260 million old-tech vehicles on the road waiting to be equipped with such things as forward-collision warning, driver-view augmentation, lateral collision-avoidance systems, parking assistance systems, even connected-vehicle systems so they can communicate with other traffic and with the roadway infrastructure.

Chart next to Schmidt’s car at the SEMA Show details technology installed

Chart next to Schmidt’s car at the SEMA Show details technology installed

Enlarge Photo

It’s all a matter of equipping old vehicles with cameras, chips and processors, and sensors, and the right software to control and coordinate them.

And it’s not just old vehicles, adds SEMA chief executive Chris Kersting, who notes that many entry-level new cars that are not equipped with such technology on assembly lines will provide another opportunity for the aftermarket to enhance.

The study calls A-das a budding “unprecedented disruptive trend.”

Such technology certainly has disrupted Sam Schmidt’s life, and in very good ways.

And while he enjoys being able to drive again, Schmidt continues to be driven by his foundation’s goal. What Conquer Paralysis Now wants, he said, is for “a lot more people walking out of hospitals instead of rolling out of them.”

This article, written by Larry Edsall, was originally published on, an editorial partner of Motor Authority.

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