“This is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done.”
WTOL was quoting Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s reaction Tuesday after he took a drive in a semi-autonomous Corvette.
As Monte Whaley reported for The Denver Post, the governor was referring to his hands-free ride in a 2014 C7 Corvette Stingray, which was modified by Arrow Electronics so disabled people can drive it using only head movements. Arrow Electronics has offices around the world, including ones in Englewood and Centennial, Colorado.
Independence for Disabled Drivers
An Arrow spokesperson told WTOL that the company adapted the cars in order to give disabled drivers independence, control, and a feeling of accomplishment. The company modified the Corvette for former IndyCar driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series Team owner Sam Schmidt, as part of the Arrow Semi-Autonomous Motorcar Project (ASAM). In May, Schmidt, who was paralyzed in a 2000 racing car accident, became the first-ever quadriplegic to drive at speed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, thanks to the modified Corvette.
As previously written in this blog, Schmidt is able to drive the car by using his breath to accelerate and brake, by sucking or blowing into a tube attached to a Freescale pressure sensor. Hickenlooper did just that when he drove the Corvette around the west parking lot of the 1STBANK Center. The governor, who sat in the driver’s seat, said it was not easy getting used to driving without using his hands. “You have to stay focused on what you are doing and keep looking straight ahead.”
Hands-Free Not Yet Road-Ready
Noel Marshall, mechanical engineer on the Corvette for the ASAM project, sat in the passenger seat as Hickenlooper drove with his breath. Marshall said there would not be any vehicles like the Corvette on Colorado roads in the near future.
After testing a semi-autonomous BMW all-electric XDrive 7301 on the same day, Gov. Hickenlooper said:
[…] it really does show you, and these are off-the-shelf electronic components. This isn’t something, they didn’t rebuild a whole car from scratch. They just thought through what it would take if someone was paralyzed and couldn’t use their hands or their arms or their legs. Could they still drive? They can! I think without question.
In a related story, on Wednesday at the Colorado Transportation Matters Summit, Hickenlooper said, “The integration of technology is changing more rapidly than most of us can keep up with,” Scott Franz wrote for Steamboat Today. It was at the summit that the Colorado Department of Transportation announced RoadX, a multi-year initiative to bring new technology into Colorado’s transportation system. RoadX will help to reduce accidents, fatalities, and congestion on roads, said Shalien Bhatt, CDOT’s executive director.
Some of the RoadX technologies will include virtual guardrails and smartcar lane markings that could help keep high-tech cars in lane. Colorado also will test connected cars and “platooning,” in which trucks equipped with new technology could travel caravan-style in a row, just 6 inches apart, which could reduce fuel costs.