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Sam Schmidt, Paralyzed Former IndyCar Racer Receives a Nevada Drivers License and Displays his Driving Skills

Aardvark Video captures Sam Schmidt as he displays his driving skills at the Exotic Raceway in Las Vegas as the first quadriplegic to receive a driver’s license.

(Video included below)

Last month we got a call from a destination management company, Baskow and Associates with a very unique project.

sam_scmidt_closeupBackground
Sam Schmidt is a man that owns an Indy racing team. As a matter of fact his team had the pole position in this years Indianapolis 500 race. He used to be a racer but suffered a serious crash that left him paralyzed from the neck down, unable to use his arms or legs. Being around racing cars and not being able to drive was very hard on Sam. Recently a company in Colorado, Arrow Electronics, put together technology that would allow Sam to drive and installed it in a Corvette for him. With this specially equipped car he is able to drive by using a special pair of glasses to steer and an oral tube to accelerate and brake. There are infrared reflectors on the glasses that are picked up by the camera system in the car and translate left and right movement into steering angle.

However without a driver’s license this capability wouldn’t be of much use because he couldn’t drive on the road. Through a legal process Sam and the State of Nevada agreed that if Sam could demonstrate that he could drive, he could get a restricted Nevada drivers license, sam-traffic-stoponly limited to the stipulation that he had to have an Arrow car in front of him while driving on Nevada roads and a trained co-driver in the car with him.

A ceremony was planned where Sam would race around a racetrack at the Exotic Raceway next to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and then go on the actual roads in the area. The entire process was to be projected on a video wall inside an event tent where all the state dignitaries could watch and where his license could be presented. To add entertainment value a staged stop was also planned by the Highway Patrol.

The Plan
Baskow and Associates called us to design and implement the technology to follow his car on the track and then from a chase car live-stream his driving all being projected on the video wall in full high definition video. They also wanted redundancy and a fail-safe system to feed the video wall so that the likelihood of a technical failure could be minimized.

This is a lot more complicated than you might think and required a tremendous amount of planning and testing. Fortunately, unlike most video companies that wouldn’t know where to start for us neither the technology to follow his car on the track or to live-stream from a chase car was unfamiliar or new; we had done both before and were able to get right into the planning and testing.

For the track feed we used a wireless video system with a range of over a mile. For the feed from the chase vehicle we used bonded cellular technology, the same as news broadcast crews’ use both feeding our Newtek Tricaster, which functioned as a switcher. The wireless feed fed directly into the Tricaster while the live-stream was sent to a laptop that was connected as a feed to the Tricaster.

Bonded Cellular Unit

connex-hd-fpv

Wireless Video Unit

To make the live-stream work, our uplink had to go to a custom manned server which was at the local SWITCH data center and manned by our partner on this, AviSight, a local company that is part of the drone project in Nevada and well versed in wireless transmission methods.

Testing
To test all the components we started by setting up the components and sending a feed from SWITCH to our Tricaster in our studio several weeks in advance to be certain the URL feed through a laptop would be flawless. Though this wasn’t being live-streamed the connectivity and HD resolution was what we wanted to test and it worked.

Next we needed to configure a vehicle as the chase vehicle. We have a professional camera mount but weren’t sure if that would give us the mobility and chase_carcontrol to keep the corvette in frame nor were we comfortable with shooting out the side of a car for the same reason. We decided a tripod-mounted camera in the bed of a pickup truck was the best option. For safety we needed to provide a safety harness and lanyards for the camera operator. A week before the event we rented the pickup truck and tested. We had the camera operator in a chair and learned that not only the operator but the chair and tripod also had to be held rigid with lanyards because braking and acceleration caused both to slide. We tested the distance we wanted to keep between vehicles and put together a plan and more testing which included lanyards, and sandbags for the equipment and a harness for the operator.

speedway-cell-heat-map

Cell Service Heat Map

We started with a heat map that showed theoretically where cell service was and our next test was to go out to the raceway and drive the proposed route checking signal strength of several cell networks the entire way. We also found a vantage that could see the whole track and tested our wireless feed from there. Both tests worked.

The day of that visit we met with the local IT person from Exotic Racing who earlier at a meeting assured us that they had a robust wireless network that could keep up with the data rate needed for HD transmission. We tested by sending a live-stream to our laptop and it wasn’t anywhere near the bandwidth needed. We all agreed that a hard-wired Internet connection would need to be run from the main building at Exotic Raceway to the tent so that we could receive the live stream. This meeting was on Friday and the event was the next Wednesday. The tent was planned to be setup on the following Monday and the IT person agreed to have the internet connection run so that we could set up and test our receiving equipment.

That Monday we showed up with all our equipment and the tent assembly wasn’t even started. It seems there had been a communication breakdown and where the tent people had indicated they would use metal stakes as anchors, the raceway didn’t want the stakes to be driven into the track surface. The tent contractor spent the better part of the day securing concrete piers that could be used. We still figured we could get the internet connection setup and tested if the IT contractor showed up. He didn’t. Also the raceway told the tent contractor they couldn’t work all night and had to leave by 7PM.

tricaster_live_stream_las_vegasTuesday was supposed to be a dry run for the client to see the feeds at noon but the tent wasn’t anywhere near finished and we had no Internet connection. We arrived early on Tuesday morning to see what we could get in place. With only a tent framework in place, we setup our equipment on a table and waited for AC power to be run. In the meantime we setup the wireless camera feed from the high vantage view of the track and got that working on batteries. It was also an opportunity for our camera operator to practice following race cars around the track and get all the camera settings dialed in.

Sometime after noon we got AC power and were able to show the client what the wireless feed would look like coming into the Tricaster.

The IT contractor showed up around 10AM and began running an Internet cable. Turns out he had misjudged the length he would need and he was about 30 feet too short. He had to run out and buy cable and we had to wait for him to get back. To be sure there wouldn’t be another slip-up, I sent one of our techs out to buy more cable also.

When the IT contractor returned, he had enough cable but when he hooked it up, it didn’t work. It seems all the drawings of Internet ports in the main raceway building were mis-marked and the one he had intended to use wasn’t hooked up. He had to do testing until he found a live port and by then it was early afternoon.

Eventually we got an Internet connection and contacted our server operator to crank up the system so that we could test the feed from the chase vehicle. It worked flawlessly. Next we hooked up a second Tricaster and laptop to run redundantly hooked up to the video wall and that also worked perfectly. With that if a Tricaster or laptop crashed, the show would still go on.

We showed the completely working system with feeds from the wireless camera and chase car live-stream to the client and she was very pleased. Then we learned that they had changed the route from the original plan and we had no idea if cell reception would work through the new area. We discussed it with the client and it was decided to test the new route with the Corvette with Sam driving. We recorded as we did this so that if we did loose signal we would have footage to switch in. Sure enough there was a 5 second section of the route where there was no cell service. Because we now had recorded footage we made a plan to use that as we went through the section during the actual show. With everything working we now felt pretty good and left by the end of the day.

The Show Day
Wednesday morning, the day of the show we arrived and saw there had been a torrential downpour overnight. The tent floor was flooded and they were sweeping water out. What was worse for us was that our wireless camera receiver was mounted on the outside of the tent and it got wet and inoperable. It very rarely rains in Las Vegas and hadn’t rained where we live so this was an unpleasant surprise. Fortunately our people from AviSight had a spare receiver and they rushed it out to us. We hooked it up and were ready to go about an hour before show time.

Our crew consisted of a switcher operator, wireless camera operator, live-stream interface person speaking with the server operator, the server operator, a chase car camera operator, chase car driver and a person in contact with the Corvette on a com-set. I drove the chase car and was in contact with the Corvette and also the live-stream interface person. That was a 7-person crew.

The show went flawlessly and everyone including the state representatives were impressed with the technology we at Aardvark Video provided. Because it went so well, no one realized the amount of planning, testing and overcoming problems plus the amount of hours that went into the project to make it look so easy.

Below is a short highlight video of the actual footage that was live-streamed to the video wall. If you have any questions regarding this project or maybe you’re planning something similar, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here at Aardvark Video:1-702-897-4477

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