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For more than 85 years, Arrow Electronics has extended the benefits of technology to as many people as possible while helping innovators develop new solutions that make life better.
This spirt of rapid innovation is what fuels Arrow’s relationship with the storied British motorcar company McLaren. Since engaging with McLaren in 2019, the relationship has generated memorable wins on the racetrack and a growing collaboration in advanced technology development and manufacturing.
Nowhere is the engagement with McLaren better represented than with Arrow’s signature tech-for-good program – the SAM Project. The latest iteration of semi-autonomous mobility (SAM) technology debuted at the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed. This unique race is set in the rolling green hills of West Sussex just an hour south of McLaren’s headquarters in Woking, England.
Introducing the New Arrow SAM Car
The Goodwood Festival of Speed celebrates all-things motorsport, ranging from a century’s worth of the world’s most important and collectible race cars to the introduction of new mobility technology.
Now in its 29th year, the festival is hosted by the Duke of Richmond on his 12,000-acre estate a few miles from the English Channel.
At the center of the festival is the competitive 1.1-mile hill climb. On four consecutive days, nearly everything on wheels – from recent F1 entries to motorcars and motorcycles as far back as 1903 – blast up a single track past the Duke’s ancestral home to a vantage point over Goodwood’s rolling parklands.
This year, Arrow showcased the newest iteration of its SAM Car – a 2021 McLaren 720S Spyder modified with electronics for semi-autonomous driving. The McLaren is the fourth edition of the Arrow SAM Car in a program that continuously redefines what technology makes possible for people facing with significant mobility impairments.
SAM and Sam
The SAM Car was built in collaboration with Sam Schmidt, a former IndyCar racer who was left paralyzed after practice lap accident in 2000. Despite having no movement from his shoulders down, the Arrow technology helps Schmidt to drive – and even race – in a way that was impossible previously.
Arrow launched the SAM program in 2013. Less than a year later, Schmidt triumphantly returned to driving in a new Corvette C7 in honorary qualifying laps at the Indy 500. Since then, he has driven a series of SAM cars in a variety of races and demonstration runs, including the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and Optima Ultimate Street Car competitions. In time trials, he has posted speeds as fast as 201 mph using the Arrow controls.
In 2016, Schmidt received a restricted driver’s license. He has driven SAM cars on some of America’s most famous thoroughfares, including Broadway in New York City, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and Boston’s Freedom Trail.
Arrow’s SAM system is based on the principle of semi-autonomous mobility. In the SAM Car, the driver remains in command of the vehicle and makes all the decisions required for optimal performance. The electronic modifications enable disabled drivers to engage the vehicle with whatever physical capabilities they possess. In Schmidt’s case, that means head controls – head movements, breath, and voice.
The newest McLaren-based SAM Car features significant technological advances, including a new steering system that uses facial recognition. It finds and identifies Schmidt as the driver. As he moves his head left and right to turn the car, its single camera captures his head motions. Those images instantly are compared with thousands of reference images kept in the car’s steering database to execute smooth and precise directional instructions to the wheels. Combined with artificial intelligence software, the system constantly learns and improves the more Schmidt drives.
At Goodwood, the new steering was successfully tested at low and moderate speeds under controlled conditions.
It soon will replace the original SAM steering system, which uses multiple infrared cameras and passive reflective markers on Schmidt’s racing helmet to track his head motions.
The new McLaren also is lighter and more powerful than the previous SAM Corvettes – 720 HP with a top speed of 212 mph.
Goodwood proved to be the perfect proving ground for the new SAM Car.
Last year, Schmidt drove the hill climb five times in four days. Battling slippery, rainy conditions he typically completed the course in runs lasting 60-64 seconds with a top speed of 100 mph.
This year in the McLaren, Schmidt delivered six runs all timed below 60 seconds; he clocked his quickest run at 57 seconds. He consistently marked a top speed of 110 mph and once touched 115 mph.
Winning On and Off the Racetrack
The 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed serves as a benchmark in the Arrow-McLaren relationship. The SAM car’s strong showing demonstrated Arrow’s capabilities in applying the latest technologies to solve complex problems under the most demanding circumstances, as well as creating dynamic mobility options for people with physical disabilities.