Sam Schmidt, Autonomous Corvette to Pace 2014 Indy 500


Those of you who don’t regularly follow IndyCar racing may not know Sam Schmidt, but you should. That’s not because of a dominant career or a series of legendary drives, however, it’s because Schmidt is an inspiration, and a shining example of the very best of “never give up, never surrenderGalaxy Quest America. See, Sam Schmidt was left a quadriplegic after a horrific IndyCar crash in 2000 that nearly killed him. Despite that, he formed Sam Schmidt Racing, the most successful IndyLights team in history and a prominent team in IndyCar’s big league, as well. And, this month, he will be behind the wheel of a 400+ HP Corvette on the high banks of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this Memorial Day Weekend, pacing the greatest spectacle in racing at the triple-digit speeds required to keep the high-strung IndyCars from stalling.

I can hear you asking already: How, exactly, will a guy who can’t move his arms or legs pilot a Corvette around a racetrack?

The answer is, he won’t. Not really. Instead, he’ll be directing the movements of a “semi-autonomous” (read: almost totally autonomous) Chevy Corvette that’s been fitted with a highly advanced user interface which allows the vehicle to be driven simply by head movements from the driver. Schmidt’s head movements will be measured by telematic cameras and infrared markers (think: motion-capture CGI). In practice, turning his head left will tell the car to turn left, turning his head right will tell the car to turn right, etc. Schmidt will also be able to tilt his head back to indicate acceleration, and bite down to brake.

It’s anybody’s guess how this will all play out on race day, but you have to imagine there is a whole squad of software engineers standing at the ready to prevent a repeat of the 1971 Challenger disaster, when this happened …

1971 Indy 500 Pace Car Crash

… and that guy wasn’t even a quadriplegic!

Here’s hoping Sam Schmidt has better luck behind the wheel of his Corvette, then, than Eldon Palmer did behind the wheel of that 1971 Challenger up there, and keeps the heavy Chevy out of the wall at turn 4. In the meantime, you can check out any practice runs the 2014 Indy 500 Pace Car may have on IndyCar’s live stream. Enjoy!


Source | Photos: Hemmings, IndyCar, via GTSpirit.


Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.