Monday - Sep 25, 2017

First public ULTra driverless pod system now in use at Heathrow Airport

After a short delay, the World’s first public first commercial personal rapid transport (PRT) system has gone into action at London’s Heathrow Airport operating on Urban Light Transit (ULTra) system, the new personal pods can be seen in operation at London’s Heathrow Airport linking the new Terminal 5 building to two remote stations in the Airport’s business park. More than twenty pods, the majority two seaters, while there are some four seaters. The pods travel a total of four kilometers in either direction to the car parks, in a journey that takes no longer than six minutes.

The pods travel to and from Terminal 5 on a guideway structure consisting of two lanes running in opposite directions, separated by a central kerb. The runways are particularly narrow, an advantage that allowed the ULTra to be installed without taking up too much space in the World’s busiest airport’s already challenged infrastructure.

Heathrow operators BAA who commissioned the project have voiced their initial satisfaction with system, which they describe as the initial part of a long term plan to improve the passage of fliers between the airport’s terminals as rapidly and comfortably as they can with the minimum effect on the environment. They also point out that fuel savings adopting the battery powered ULTra system will be considerable.

What must have appealed to the Heathrow Airport management team are the low investment costs in getting the system up and running. All of the pods were manufactured using “off the shelf” materials and the guideways on which the pods travel are basically two parallel rows of precast concrete barriers, based on the design of separation bumpers typically found in the airport’s parking lots. Initial estimates put the whole systems construction costs at around seven million pounds for the four kilometer footprint. Currently there are no details available of how much the pods cost to build.

Both the pods and the stations to which they arrive are basically unmanned, with the pods being operated by the passengers who only need to punch in one of the three pod’s potential destinations.

It all sounds very simple and user friendly but anyone who has been through Heathrow’s Terminal five in the few months since the pods have been in operation will tell you that it looks like a real glimpse into the future.

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