A few months ago, Sam Schmidt drove more than 150 mph in the semiautonomous Arrow SAM Car during demonstration laps at the Indy 500. Now, he’s been granted the nation’s first autonomous vehicle-restricted driver’s license by the state of Nevada. That means he can drive the SAM Car, which was built for him by Arrow Electronics, on public roads under restricted conditions.
Arrow designed the SAM car for Schmidt in 2014, and in 2015, they began working with Schmidt’s home state of Nevada to revise regulations to allow him to drive on roads in addition to race tracks. The vehicle is not entirely autonomous; Schmidt does control the car, a modified Corvette Z06, using his voice, head, and breath to steer, accelerate, and brake. But it qualifies as autonomous according to Nevada law because Schmidt does not have “full active control” of the car, according to an email.
Schmidt received his license today and celebrated with a few laps at Exotic Racing track and on public roads near the facility. And sure, you could say it’s a publicity stunt, but the stunt is increasing access to all kinds of transportation through technology. As Jude Hurin of the Nevada DMV said in a statement:
Arrow Electronics created a semi-autonomous vehicle in a short period of time that not only breaks the current definitions of autonomy, but also delivers a technology that has the potential to bring freedom to those who have physical disabilities. We were proud to collaborate with Arrow to pioneer a way for Sam Schmidt and the SAM Car to drive legally and safely on Nevada highways. This testing will help to improve their technology and bring them closer to providing increased mobility to the disabled community.
At this early stage, autonomous technology can seem gimmicky, but for a lot of people, it could prove to be a game changer. As Schmidt himself said, “I can’t even begin to explain just how much this provisional driver’s license, and the mobility and independence it represents, mean to me.”