Heathrow Rolls Out Driverless Pods

Quietly, and at about 5 miles an hour, the future is arriving at Heathrow Terminal Five.

A year later than planned and with little fanfare the Heathrow Pod system has started running between Terminal 5 and the business car park, replacing the 15 minute interval shuttle bus that used to serve the route.

It’s hard to justify a trip out to business car park B unless you’re in the area, but we were across the airport at this weekend’s British Airways Open Day so made the short journey to try out the pods.

The technology is know as ULTra (as in Urban Light Transport) and was developed right here in Blighty. ULTra belongs to a family know as Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) – the idea is to harness the best of all transport alternatives – a private vehicle, a public service, emission free and direct from A to B, with none of that irritating stopping for other people.

By virtue of going direct from your start to your destination PRT makes all sorts of efficiency gains, no constant breaking and acceleration and it allows a low top speed while keeping journey times the same (or shorter) as bus and train alternatives. Unlike a Hackney carriage it pootles along on a dedicated guideway, free from traffic with the computer making all the decisions to ensure no one gets held up by anyone else.

So far the 21st century has been rather disappointing in promised futureness – no hover-boards, no flying cars  – but ULTra is a big gleaming blob of white modernity right here that almost no one is going to see. So, if you find yourself at Terminal five with 20 minutes to kill, follow the signs for ‘business parking’ and take a small step into the undiscovered country.

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  • Dean Nicholas

    “no hover-boards”

    To be fair, Back To The Future Part II (where, I believe, hoverboards first appeared) was set in the year 2015, so the boffins have four years in which to make this a reality. I’m optimistic.

  • Anonymous

    Yes,  but clearly hoverboard technology has been around for some time by 2015 – there was allready clear market differentiation between children’s and adult products, suggesting a mature market of some years standing.

    Still, it’s a good deal nearer than Mr Fusion…

  • Anonymous

    Did BA still lose baggage in the year 2015?

    • Dean Nicholas

      As the flying car is ubiquitous by 2015, one has to question whether airlines such as BA will even exist anymore.
      (sorry for hijacking this comment thread — great post, James).

      • Anonymous

        Indeed, though I’m not clear on the top speed of flying cars – perhaps there are still airport offering Hypersonic Intercontinental connections? (after all, cars don’t make intercity trains redundant).

        Thanks Dean

  • Anonymous

    It also helps that the control panel looks alot like a 2001 vintage video phone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiyOfgMiMbc

  • Anonymous

    Slow, crude, short track and earth-bound but it’s a promising step towards ubiquitous PRT systems. Something small but maglev, very fast and elevated to make any crashes with pedestrians an impossibility (probably with heated track to keep it clear and usable even in a snowstorm). 

  • http://twitter.com/PRTandWiseline David Gow

    It’s more like 25 mph, not 5.

    • Anonymous

      on full pelt, yes, but it doesn’t arrive that fast, which was the reference.

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