SAM Suit

The next frontier of freedom

Freedom is more than motion. It’s choosing what you want to do, and doing it. The Semi-Autonomous Mobility (SAM) Suit helps people with high-level spinal cord injuries to walk, even without the use of their extremities or torsos.

The challenge is to go from what is possible to what is practical.

When former IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt injured the C3-4-5 vertebrae in his neck during a racing accident, he was left as a quadriplegic. Sam’s injuries meant he would likely never drive a race car again.

Working with Sam, Arrow created the SAM Car — a semi-autonomous vehicle that allows Sam to drive using head motions for steering, sip-and-puff control for acceleration and braking, and voice commands for additional control. Sam has raced up Pikes Peak — the second-highest peak in the contiguous United States — and been able to enjoy the thrill of driving that has shaped his life.

But there is a new frontier of freedom to explore.

No person with Sam’s level of quadriplegia has walked, even with the assistance of technology. Some would say that it’s impossible. Sam is not one of those people.

Stepping Towards Mobility

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Introducing the SAM Suit

Arrow brings the right technology and right partners together to create a solution to make life better for Sam Schmidt and others with high-level spinal cord injuries. The SAM Suit is a semi-autonomous mobility concept that seeks to advance existing exoskeleton technology. In its early phases, it enables Sam to walk slowly and safely without tethering for short distances. Subsequent iterations will give Sam more control of the suit’s operation and additional potential movement, including turning and sitting.

Arrow and our collaborators are modifying an existing exoskeleton in several ways. To support Sam’s torso, we integrated a full rigid back board, sturdier leg branches, arm supports and extensive support straps. Sensors at his feet detect his stride and help to modulate his speed. Additional software controls and analytics can process more motion data to synchronize movements.

Fast Company magazine named the Arrow SAM Suit as a finalist in its “World Changing Ideas” program less than a year after Sam was first measured for his walking technology. The SAM Suit is included in the magazine’s summer issue.

Sam took his first steps in the SAM Suit in March 2021 at the DRIVEN Neuro-Recovery Center in Las Vegas. On April 25, he danced with his daughter Savannah at her wedding. As he continues his rehabilitation, he will walk at select public events to demonstrate how technology extends personal freedom and enhances opportunities for people with disabilities.

The technology

The SAM Suit is a 30-pound exoskeleton modified with extensions to support Sam’s torso and arms as well as his lower extremities. The Sam Suit enables Schmidt to stand and walk with an able-boded assistant at a slow, steady, and stable pace. He can walk up to 100 feet at a time and remains in the suit for 90 minute training sessions.

Phase 1

The SAM Suit will follow a similar timeline to the SAM Car by starting with a viable proof of concept and continue to work toward incorporating additional features and capabilities over time.

The initial SAM Suit will start with an existing exoskeleton and modify it for better performance. That will include adding a more rigid full back boarding, strengthening the leg braces, and adding additional support for the arms. More powerful motors will enable better ankle, hip, and knee joint movement. Initially, Sam will walk with the assistance of another person.

Diagram details:

  1. Arms: Large actuators power the arm supports, allowing Sam to bend and move his arms.
  2. Knees/Legs: The actuators in the legs are powerful enough to enable Sam to take steps while bending his knees.
  3. Torso Support: To help Sam stand upright, the shoulder harness, chest straps, and arm supports connect to a carbon fiber backpack that keeps weight down and offers exceptional strength and rigidity.
  4. Head Controls and Neck Support: Like the SAM car, the bulk of control is done via head movements as well as sip-and-puff control. These are integrated into the rigid head and neck support.
  5. GPU: The SAM Suit relies on cutting-edge technology for movement control, synchronization, and balance. Integrated sensors like accelerometers will collect motion data to refine walking and balance support in real time.
  6. Battery Pack: The integrated battery pack allows for up to 75 minutes of continuous operation. As battery technology improves, the suit can operate for increasingly extended periods of time.
  7. Foot Actuator: To ensure stable movement, the foot actuators help maintain body-to-ground stability and contact.

Added Reliability: For increased safety, the suit will also network with a mobile app for redundancy control.

Phase 2

The SAM Suit technology package will be expanded to add a balance system and semi-autonomous head controls. Additional guidance technology and machine learning will help him develop a smooth, repeatable stride. This will enable him to walk with more confidence, for greater distances and minimal help from an able-bodied attendance.

Phase 3

The first versions of the SAM Suit will serve as the building blocks for future iterations, as additional improvements will allow for greater range and freedom of movement.

Diagram details:

  1. Body Landmark Sensors: This network of infrared, motion-capture, and color-identifying cameras essentially creates a field of coverage and helps capture Sam’s movements as he walks. Through the incorporation of machine-learning technology, the exoskeleton’s CPU can use this information to better refine the SAM Suit’s movements and avoidance abilities.
  2. Motion: If motion exceeds predetermined speed, length of stride, or pathway, the suit could help Sam slow down or even stop.
  3. Continuous Learning: Data from every use will help the suit improve overall operation for better efficiency, smoother strides, and more freedom.
  4. Gyroscope: This measure of rotation and balance will help keep Sam orientated and improve the balance and performance of the suit.
  5. Actuators: With additional data input, the actuators can be micro-adjusted to suit Sam’s movement needs.

Anything is possible

After Sam’s accident, life would never be the same. But with the right technology and the right partners, Arrow is working to give Sam back some of the freedoms he has missed. It started with driving, and the next chapter is walking. What does the future hold? All we know is that when it comes to Sam Schmidt, nothing is impossible.