Anything is Possible
When former IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt injured the C3-4-5 vertebrae in his neck during a racing accident, he was left as a quadriplegic. Sam’s injuries meant he would likely never drive a race car again.
The challenge is to go from what is possible to what is practical.
Working with Sam, Arrow created the
SAM Car — a semi-autonomous vehicle that allows Sam to drive using head motions for steering, sip-and-puff control for acceleration and braking, and voice commands for additional control. Sam has raced up Pikes Peak and been able to enjoy the thrill of driving that has shaped his life.
No person with Sam’s level of quadriplegia has walked, even with the assistance of technology. Some would say that it’s impossible. Sam is not one of those people.
But there is a new frontier of freedom to explore.
With the same spirit that fueled the SAM Car project, Arrow and Sam are working to create a
semi-autonomous mobility suit based on modified exoskeleton technology. The SAM suit will leverage many of the same technological concepts that have helped Sam to race again in the SAM Car and recover his identify as a race car driver, including electronic controls and safety features.
The SAM Suit is a 30-pound exoskeleton modified with extensions to support Sam’s torso and arms as well as his lower extremities. The Sam Suit enables Schmidt to stand and walk with an able-boded assistant at a slow, steady, and stable pace. He can walk up to 100 feet at a time and remains in the suit for 90 minute training sessions.
The Next Frontier of Freedom
After Sam’s accident, life would never be the same. But with the right technology and the right partners, Arrow is working to give Sam back some of the freedoms he has missed. It started with driving, and the next chapter is walking. What does the future hold? All we know is that when it comes to Sam Schmidt, nothing is impossible.
The initial SAM Suit will start with an existing exoskeleton and modify it for better performance. That will include adding a more rigid full back boarding, strengthening the leg braces, and adding additional support for the arms. More powerful motors will enable better ankle, hip, and knee joint movement. Initially, Sam will walk with the assistance of another person.
Head Controls and Neck Support
The SAM Suit technology package will be expanded to add a balance system and semi-autonomous head controls. Additional guidance technology and machine learning will help him develop a smooth, repeatable stride. This will enable him to walk with more confidence, for greater distances and minimal help from an able-bodied attendance.
Body Landmark Sensors
The first versions of the SAM Suit will serve as the building blocks for future iterations, as additional improvements will allow for greater range and freedom of movement. These improvements include:
Large actuators power the arm supports, allowing Sam to bend and move his arms.
The actuators in the legs are powerful enough to enable Sam to take steps while bending his knees.
To help Sam stand upright, the shoulder harness, chest straps, and arm supports connect to a carbon fiber backpack that keeps weight down and offers exceptional strength and rigidity.
Reliability: For increased safety, the suit will also network with a mobile app for redundancy control.
Like the SAM car, the bulk of control is done via head movements as well as sip-and-puff control. These are integrated into the rigid head and neck support.
The SAM Suit relies on cutting-edge technology for movement control, synchronization, and balance. Integrated sensors like accelerometers will collect motion data to refine walking and balance support in real time.
The integrated battery pack allows for up to 75 minutes of continuous operation. As battery technology improves, the suit can operate for increasingly extended periods of time.
To ensure stable movement, the foot actuators help maintain body-to-ground stability and contact.
This network of infrared, motion-capture, and color-identifying cameras essentially creates a field of coverage and helps capture Sam’s movements as he walks. Through the incorporation of machine-learning technology, the exoskeleton’s CPU can use this information to better refine the SAM Suit’s movements and avoidance abilities.
If motion exceeds predetermined speed, length of stride, or pathway, the suit could help Sam slow down or even stop.
This measure of rotation and balance will help keep Sam orientated and improve the balance and performance of the suit.
With additional data input, the actuators can be micro-adjusted to suit Sam’s movement needs.
Data from every use will help the suit improve overall operation for better efficiency, smoother strides, and more freedom.
The SAM Suit will follow a similar timeline to the SAM Car by starting with a viable proof of concept and continue to work toward incorporating additional features and capabilities over time.