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“Opportunities like that are once in

a lifetime,” Grigsby said. “Seeing Sam

drive again for the first time in the 14

years since his near-fatal racing accident,

was an amazing and immensely

satisfying experience,” he said.

“At first, we all thought, ‘this is nuts!’”

Grigsby said about the request to follow

up a racecar that had been modified with

automated hand controls for a paraplegic

person, with something that would work

for complete quadriplegics.

But Grigsby and his team thrive on

challenge, and the question nagged at his

brain: how do you enable a quadriplegic

to safely control a high-powered sports

car at speeds up to 100 mph, and get the

whole project done, start to finish, in less

than nine months? And, Sam Schmidt

would have to really control the car,

not just ride in an autonomous vehicle.

Could it really be done?

Grigsby’s curiosity won out. After

studying Schmidt’s capabilities

and brainstorming about possible

technologies, the Ball team designed

a system based on reliable motion

tracking technology, the same systems

used by Hollywood for motion

capture. With this system, they tracked

Schmidt’s head movements down to

less than a millimeter, and applying

some sophisticated algorithms, used

those movements to control steering

and acceleration. A pressure sensor

embedded in a bite mold allowed

Schmidt to slow and


Grigsby remembers the first time he and

Ball Chief Technologist Glen Geisen,

climbed into the simulator at Ball’s

Systems Engineering Solutions facility in

Dayton, Ohio, and saw the technology

work. “We were amazed at how well it

worked right from the start,” he said.

“You never know – in your head, you’re

always thinking about all of the little

things that can go wrong, but all the

while in your gut, you know it just has to

work,” added Grigsby.

After his first run in the simulator,

Schmidt was speechless. In his second

session, he completed a 2.5-mile virtual

lap in 42.55 seconds at an average speed

of 211.5 mph!

Later, after spending weeks in

Indianapolis calibrating cameras and

integrating the sophisticated systems

into a futuristic $65,000 2014 Corvette

C7 Stingray, Grigsby watched his

teammate, Ball Chief Technologist

Glen Geisen, don a hat festooned with

reflectors that are tracked by the infrared

cameras on the car’s dashboard – and by

tilting his head – turn the car’s steering

wheel for the first time. Soon after, it

Grigsby explains the technology to Schmidt. Image courtesy of Ball Aerospace &

Technologies Corp.

Sam Schmidt in the SAM car.

Image Courtesy of Brian Malone,

Fast Forward Films

The SAM car.

Image courtesy of

Ball Aerospace & Technologies