The Human-Machine Interface

William Pickard, Applications Engineer for Arrow Electronics, explains, “Our goal is to push the use of the GPS/IMU beyond navigation into a driver’s aid. Sam has a natural and learned racing skill that we want to take advantage of by allowing Sam to drive the car to the peak of his ability. To do this, we have developed a human-to-machine interface that allows Sam to steer using the motion of his head and control gas and brake using a tube in his mouth. The goal of the GPS unit is not to make decisions for Sam, but to give him performance data and analytics that allow him to push the car to its limit.”

As part of the third generation SAM system, the team retrofitted a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 2016 Corvette Z06 (200 more HP than SAM 2.0) with upgraded control systems and a NovAtel® high-accuracy ProPak6™ GNSS receiver for higher system reliability and safety.

Ideal for environments where very high dynamics and frequent interruption of signals can be expected, the ProPak6 receiver is capable of tracking different combinations of GNSS signals including GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS and SBAS, with integrated L-Band on 240 channels. ProPak6 models contain the OEM638™ GNSS receiver card as their measurement and positioning engine.

The GNSS is tightly linked with machine learning algorithms to closely match Sam’s movements to the vehicle response and performance. 

Joshua Willis, Application Engineer at Arrow Electronics, explains, “We integrated the unit to use the high-precision real-time GPS to track the vehicle’s position. This position information is used as part of our engineering and public IoT [Internet of Things] dashboards.”

Essentially, Sam steers the car by looking in the direction he wants to go and continues to use the Sip-and-Puff system developed in the first versions of the car (puff out to accelerate; sip in to brake). However, Sam’s interface was changed in version 3.0 from a racing hat to sunglasses fitted with nine motion sensors that are tracked by an off-the-shelf 4-camera array located on the car’s dashboard. A human-to-machine interface translates the sensor data from the driver’s head motions to a drive-bywire system, all within a fraction of a degree in real-time. The team is currently tracking Sam’s head movement to about millimetre accuracy.

According to Arrow, the modified off-the-shelf electric motors under the wheel take data from the Sip-and-Puff and main guidance computers to control steering and braking—one motor controls the gas and braking, and a second motor controls steering. The Arrow team says the car is also equipped with custom IoT capabilities, developed on the Arrow Connect IoT platform, that enable live streaming and replay of telemetry, driver biometrics, environmental conditions and driver Point of View (POV) video. A custom engineering dashboard allows the team to quickly pinpoint and correct issues in real-time. Sam drove this car in the Indy Grand Prix and the Pikes Peak Hill Climb races, with some impressive results.


On the Track

In 2016, Sam set out to drive the Pikes Peak course with the newly modified GPS-enabled 2016 Corvette Z06—and he did it in 15 minutes flat.

Pickard says, “The Pikes Peak hill climb has lots of turns. During this test, we were able to use the intelligent guidance system to collect and share feedback about the roadway instantaneously to Sam, improve the racing line and take seconds off lap times.”

On May 13, 2017, the Arrow/SAM team put two SAM cars on the Indy Grand Prix road course. On that date, Sam and Mario Andretti “raced” using head controls. The road course is 2.439 miles. 

Pickard said, “This race was one of the best events we’ve had to date. Sam and Mario were able to carefully maneuver around a very technical track at high speeds, reaching up to 140 mph. This was the first time Sam has been able to compete against another driver, which was a huge milestone for him and for us. Although Sam lost by a very narrow margin at the finish line, it was a very successful day for the SAM technology and Sam Schmidt personally.”