The Semi-Autonomous Motorcar (SAM) Project

Pioneering Ball technology enables a severely injured former IndyCar driver to operate a car at racetrack speeds.


Injured IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt in the racing simulator during testing.



Ball Aerospace is pioneering engineering systems to allow individuals with limited physical capabilities to safely operate complex mechanical systems. Ball’s research on the Semi –Autonomous Motorcar project (SAM)  developed the technologies, algorithms and techniques to enable those who are injured or who are encumbered by other limitations to better interface with their environment.

SAM is an innovative project that modified a 2014 Corvette C7 ‘Stingray’ so a qualified quadriplegic driver can safely operate it under racetrack conditions. The SAM project gave Sam Schmidt, an injured IndyCar driver with no ability to move his arms or legs, the ability to drive at high speeds at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Ball-developed human-machine interface technology is the first to enable a quadriplegic to safely control and steer a car. The SAM project will help inspire disabled people to realize they can be more independent with the help of technology and will be of crucial importance for a new generation of mobility and safety technologies.

SAM is part of a wider Ball Aerospace effort to explore man-machine teaming approaches that range from fully autonomous systems with no human input to minimally autonomous systems with primarily human inputs. Beyond empowering disabled people, these capabilities have both commercial and government applications.

Ball Aerospace has long worked with the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop novel available technology and apply it to real systems. These systems are designed to operate semi-autonomously with human input at critical decision-making points. Human-machine teaming can enhance human performance and capabilities through two-way communication and shared decision-making.

Different levels of autonomy can be applied to manage cyber systems and remotely piloted aircraft, allowing technology to mitigate the impact of workforce cuts. A human-machine interface can also be used to monitor human state sensing, operating to compensate for incapacitated pilots and drivers for momentary attention lapses. There are numerous other applications for incident commanders and first responders. These emerging technologies bridge the gap between humans and machines and allow people to do things they couldn’t do before.




Ball neuroscientist Dr. Scott Grigsby makes adjustments as Sam Schmidt drives the racing simulator.


Our Role


Ball Aerospace led the creation of the human-machine interface and the driver guidance system on the SAM project. The Ball engineering team identified the driver’s abilities and matched them to what is needed to drive the car. Critical to this process was determining the optimal combination of machine-controlled and human-controlled functions.

Despite his injuries, Mr. Schmidt has the ability to move his head, which has allowed the Ball team to convert the driver’s head movements into computer code to steer, speed up and slow down the car. An infrared camera mounted in the car, and sensors placed on headgear worn by Sam tracked the angle and movements of his head; a bite-sensor device brakes the car when he bites down.

Ball tested the system in a race car simulator to study the car’s movements in relation to the driver’s head movements and refined the man-machine interface. During the actual car run, all driver inputs are fed into the Ball-developed adaptive control processing unit, which then drives the car control computer interface designed by Arrow Electronics, the prime contractor on the SAM project.

The Ball team team includes the Air Force Research Laboratory, which monitoredthe driver’s biometrics under stress conditions and collected data on how the driver interacts with the guidance system.




The specially modified Corvette C7 Stingray with Ball-designed human-machine interface technology that enabled former IndyCar racer Sam Schmidt to drive for the first time since his accident 14 years ago..


SAM Project Team


Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

  • Human-Machine Interface
  • Control Algorithms
  • Synthetic Environment
  • Testing & Evaluation

Air Force Research Laboratory

  • Physiological Monitoring and Feedback
  • Human Systems Subject Matter Expertise

Arrow Electronics

  • Systems Integrator
  • Vehicle Systems
  • Safety Systems

Falci Adaptive Motorsports

  • Medical consulting
  • Driver Safety

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

  • Driver
  • Vehicle Modifications
  • IndyCar Series/Indianapolis Motor Speedway






EPOXI/Deep Impact





Green Propellant Infusion Mission


Hubble Space Telescope

James Webb Space Telescope


F-35/Lightning II


Operational Land Imager

New Horizons/Ralph



Replicated Diffractive Optics/MOIRE









Suomi NPP



WorldView spacecraft series