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Full speed ahead

Full speed ahead

Lauren Durham ’22 October 14, 2021
Grace Doepker '11 is on the cutting edge of technology that is making a difference in the lives of those with disabilities.

Grace Doepker ’11 comes from a Flyer family with a knack for analyzing, building and creating solutions to everyday problems. 

Doepker knew she wanted to be an engineer since she was a child. Her grandfather, Phil Doepker, professor emeritus in the University of Dayton Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and founding director of the Innovation Center, showed her what careers in engineering could look like.

“I think I knew from a really young age that I wanted to be an engineer. I liked building things. I liked tinkering,” Doepker said.


Doepker works as a technical solutions architect at Arrow Electronics. Based in Centennial, Colorado, Arrow develops technology solutions that improve business and daily life. In her role, Doepker combines her engineering knowledge with customer service to ensure clients use the best designs and features for their projects.

Recently, Doepker’s work brought her to a race track across the pond.

Arrow showed off its Semi-Autonomous Motorcar, or SAM Car, technology earlier this year at Goodwood Motor Circuit in West Sussex, England. By tweaking a Corvette with a few off-the-shelf solutions, Doepker and her team transformed the vehicle into a race car fit for Sam Schmitt, former IndyCar driver and quadriplegic. The Corvette reaches 200 miles per hour, and Schmitt is able to drive by himself with just a few simple head motions.

For example:
Cameras/sensors — Driver turns head left and right
Steering — Driver turns head left and right
Accelerating — Driver puffs breath into mouthpiece
Breaking —
Driver "sips" on the straw mouthpiece

This project has been ongoing for the past six years, and Doepker has seen the idea grow from almost the very beginning. While Arrow is not in the business of mass-producing these cars, the company wants to be noticed in a different kind of way.

Grace Doepker poses in a chair directly in front of the SAM Car.
Grace Doepker with the SAM Car.


“We are focused on trying to showcase what technology can do and how people can use technology to make the world a better place,” Doepker said.

She and her team worked closely with Schmitt on the designs and executions of the SAM Car.

According to Doepker, her team reached out to Schmitt to see if he was interested in the partnership. He responded, “OK, but it has to go at least 100 miles per hour. I’m not necessarily interested in doing a minivan version.’”

“And I think, at that point, we knew we found the right partner,” Doepker said.

In 2020, Schmitt returned to racing 20 years after a crash severely injured his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed. He now competes alongside able-bodied drivers. Schmitt also recently became the first quadriplegic to get a driver’s license.

“He’s an integral member of our team. We treat him the same as any member of our development team, considering all of his input, and he’s still a much better driver than any of the engineers on the team,” Doepker said.

Grace reaches over to assist Schmitt into the SAM Car.
Doepker assists Schmitt into the SAM Car.


Arrow’s work is not just on wheels, though. In May, Arrow debuted the SAM Suit, exoskeleton technology that allows quadriplegics like Schmitt the opportunity to walk again,.

According to Arrow, Schmitt “will walk at select public events to demonstrate how technology extends personal freedom and enhances opportunities for people with disabilities.”

Doepker said she is grateful her job allows for creativity and the opportunity to solve problems while being on a team. Her hope is that she’s able to work with fellow Flyers, especially interns, in the near future to carry on the mentorship her family gave to her.


Photos courtesy of Arrow Electronics/Scott Robinson

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