Quadriplegic Driver Drives Car With Sip & Puff, Head Movement, Voice Controls

Sam Schimdt seen sitting in the driver seat of his car. A pipe that he pufs and sucks on to accelerate and brake the car is seen going into his mouth

Can a quadriplegic, someone paralyzed from the neck down, drive a car? 

Race car driver Sam Schmidt’s career came to an abrupt end when a crash in 2000 left him paralyzed. After 17 years though, project SAM (Semi Autonomous Motorcar), a car with various modifications, has helped Sam get back on the road. Here is how it works: to make it accelerate, Sam sucks on a tube that is connected to a pressure sensor. Blowing on the tube is like applying brakes, and that brings the car to a stop. To steer, he uses head movement. The head movement is picked up by an array of infrared cameras that track a bunch of white dots on a pair of sunglasses he wears. Voice commands activate things like turn signals. The passenger side has another set of steering wheel, accelerator, and brake in case there is a problem while Sam is driving. In order to not cause any abrupt stops, the engineers designed the software of the car to suppress sudden pressure spikes, like sneezes. 

Sam likes the sense of normalcy that this car gives him. There were very few things he had 100% control over in his life, and he likes that he can fully control this car. The video below shows how easily he can maneuver  his car by just sipping and sucking on the pressure sensor tube. Recently, Sam also got the country’s first semi autonomous driver’s license.

How much does this car cost after all the modifications? $1 million. (GASP!) So clearly, it is out of reach of regular people for now. However, it definitely paves way for hope, and in the future, when more manufacturers and innovators get together to make these modifications “mainstream”,  making these semi autonomous cars for people with disabilities would be much more affordable.

Source: ArsTechnica


  1. Fascinating technology! Leaves me with questions, like how steering with head movements might be risky. There must be some way to move your head without steering. I would think you’d want to turn your head to look over your shoulder before you change lanes!

    • Great question! If they made provisions for sneezes, they probably must have considered moving your head before changing lanes too. I will research more about this, and I’ll update the post as and when I find more.

      Thank you for your comment and question, Brenda!

      • Like my husband Lance Lesslie, they use a lot of mirrors, back up cameras. My husband uses a joystick/ Voice operated/ a button to do the visuals attached to three computers that operate 2 servo motors using wires and he doesn’t turn his head back at all.

  2. Nice read! Keep up the good work!

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  1. Quadriplegic Driver Independently Operates Car using advanced AT | Ability Tools Weekly

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