SAM Program Manager - Scott Grigsby


Program Manager Scott Grigsby

SAM is an innovative project in which Ball modified a 2014 Corvette C7 ‘Stingray’ to enable a quadriplegic driver to safely operate and control the car under racetrack conditions. The SAM project gives 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 control and steer a car at operational speed. The SAM project will help inspire disabled people to realize they can be more independent with the help of technology and will be a driving force for a new generation of mobility and safety technologies.

Ball Aerospace is the system interface developer on the SAM project, engineering the human-machine interface and the driver guidance system.

Scott Grigsby is the Ball Program Manager for the SAM Project.


Q. What does it mean to be the program manager for the Semi-Autonomous Motorcar (SAM) project – what do you do?
A. As SAM Program Manager, I am responsible for organizing and managing the technical design and development of the Ball human interface systems to ensure successful delivery, integration, and testing in the demonstration vehicle. I am also responsible for leading and coordinating all of the programmatic aspects of the project. These logistics have been especially challenging for SAM due to the short development timeline and technical complexity.

Q. What is the most interesting part of working on the SAM project?
A. After working on DoD programs for most of my professional career, SAM has brought us all into the exciting world of professional IndyCar racing while at the same time giving us the opportunity to develop unique enabling technologies for the disabled community. Opportunities like that are once in a lifetime. Seeing Sam Schmidt drive again, first in the simulator and then in the car itself, for the first time in the 15 years since his accident, was just an amazing experience. To know that our efforts were crucial for that to occur is just immensely satisfying.

Q. What is the key technology or technologies used in the SAM project?
A. The main challenge we were presented with was how do you enable a quadriplegic to safely control a high- powered sports car at speeds up to 100 mph, and get the whole project done, start to finish, in less than 9 months? The key here was that Sam was to really control the car, not just riding in an autonomous vehicle.

After studying his capabilities and brainstorming about possible technologies, we designed a system based on reliable motion tracking technology, the same systems used by Hollywood for motion capture. With this system, we could track Sam’s head movements down to less than a millimeter and using some sophisticated algorithms, we could use these movements to control steering and acceleration. A pressure sensor embedded in a bite mold relayed the braking signal.

All of these systems were first integrated into a sophisticated driving simulator so we could test and optimize our controllers and train Sam to use them in a safe, controlled environment. These technologies gave us a safe, reliable, but novel approach that could be accomplished and tested within the needed timeframe.

Q. What makes SAM unique?
A. There have been other forays into creating systems to allow quadriplegics to drive, but the SAM project brings together the latest in human interface technology combined with autonomous vehicle technology in a true Human-Machine teaming application. While Ball’s human interface technology allows Sam to have complete control of the vehicle, we have added levels of automation that will keep the vehicle under control and provide the latest in collision avoidance. This combination of engineering advances will allow Sam to maintain smooth control at speeds that were once thought to be unachievable.

Q. What the best part of working at Ball Aerospace?
A. It’s the people. Ball has so many intelligent, driven employees with experiences and interests in so many fields that when off-the-wall complex projects such as this pop up, there are plenty of resources and brainpower that can be utilized. We are all problem- solvers and will do what it takes to ensure that a project is successful. Ball provides a great environment for success.

Q. How did you end up in the aerospace industry?
A. After I got my PhD at Ohio State University and was completing a post-doc there, I was starting to explore my options when a friend called and said he had a great opportunity. He was a government scientist at the Air Force Research lab here in Dayton working on the “Super Cockpit” which sought to apply virtual reality technologies to the cockpit environment. He needed some help researching and designing the helmet-mounted displays that would be used, and it was an exciting opportunity to get involved in the burgeoning virtual reality field. I was hooked right away. Since then, I have been involved with many interesting projects in human interfaces in the areas of alternative controls, speech processing, decision support, command and control, and simulation and training.

Q. Was there an individual who inspired you in your career?
A. There have been several: Dr. Mort Fineman was one of my undergraduate physics professors and he challenged me to never accept the easy path, but to take the more difficult path as that is where the greatest lessons are learned. Dr. Carl Ingling, my PhD advisor, was a tremendous mentor who believed in me and taught me to believe in myself. And, of course, my father, who always said to do what you love. Finally, there is Sam Schmidt himself who truly shows that life is what you make it and we are only limited by the limits we put on ourselves.

Q. What do you do in your spare time?
A. Aside from running and a little golf, I mostly just relax and play with my family - Although, lately, I have been very interested in IndyCar racing.





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