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Racecar for people with quadriplegia demonstrated during Indy 500 Pole Day

May 20, 2014

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It was the drive of a lifetime. The crowd watched as former IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt drove four laps around the track during the Indy 500 Pole Day Sunday.

“It was exhilarating,” said Dr. Scott Falci. “It was amazing to watch an idea come to fruition in front of your eyes.”

Schmidt sustained a spinal cord injury in 2000 while practicing for the Indy500. He was diagnosed with quadriplegia and is unable to move from the chest down. On Sunday, he got behind the wheel of a first-of-its-kind racecar and completed four consecutive laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of a special demonstration.

“Everyone was captivated and cheering Sam on. It felt like a victory for him, as well as the future of adaptive technology,” said Falci.

The racecar for people with quadriplegia was a concept conceived by Craig Hospital Chief of Neurosurgery Dr. Scott Falci.

A former patient, who was also a racecar driver, inspired Falci to create the nonprofit Falci Adaptive Motorsports. Together they conceived of the idea to modify a racecar so disabled drivers could return to the racetrack. Falci facilitated the gathering of Arrow Electronics, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., and Schmidt Peterson Motor Sports with a focus on modifying a racecar for people living with quadriplegia.

“All of the right minds collaborated on this project. It has the momentum to not only revolutionize the adaptive sports and racing industries, but hopefully inspire the next wave of adaptive technology,” said Falci.

The project is a collaborative initiative between Arrow Electronics, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Schmidt Peterson Motor Sports and Falci Adaptive Motorsports.

The 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray has been uniquely modified with integrated advanced electronics and a human-to-machine interface. The SAM Project’s objectives are not to transfer control of a vehicle to technology but rather to enable disabled drivers to enjoy the driving experience by leveraging the power of technology.

Arrow is leading the development of the SAM car and the systems integration, as well as the engineering of specific systems for the car. Ball is leading the modification of the human-to-machine interface and driver-guidance system. The Air Force Research Laboratory is monitoring the driver’s biometrics during laps, as well as collecting data in how the driver interacts with the guidance systems. Falci is serving as the project’s medical director.