In a small-scale experiment, 21 passenger pods have carried more than 1,000 passengers every day between the terminal and Business Car Park at Heathrow Airport. The five-minute ride entails crossing over seven roads and two rivers. Commissioned by the Heathrow Airport Holding Limited and built by the UK-based Ultra Global PRT, the pods have logged over one million miles and demonstrated cost savings, environmental impact and user-friendliness.
There is no type of railway needed. The ultra pods are actual cars with rubber tires, batteries and all. They are 12ft long, 5ft wide and 6ft tall with enough space for six people and their luggage. At 1,870lbs with a 141lb battery pack, the ultra pod can reach 25mphr while only drawing 2kW of electricity. The pods have a self-monitored battery level and when it needs to, it will excuse itself at station stops for charging.
Environmentally, the ultra pods are very impressive. The system already meets the new Kyoto Protocol 2050 projections. The pods have a 50% reduction in per-passenger carbon emissions compared with diesel-powered buses and 70% when compared with cars. Heathrow claims that the ultra pods have replaced 70,000 bus journeys each year. Another major plus is that 80% of passengers do not need to wait for a pod – the maximum wait time is 10 seconds.
Inside the pod, touch screens let riders select their destination – of which at Heathrow, only offers two options right now. As the doors open, a recorded voice welcomes the rider. Once the passenger presses “Close doors” and “Start” then the pod backs out of its parking spot and glides away from the station.
Obviously, this closed-course vehicle was much easier to build rather than one for the open road such as the Google self-driving car. Sure, it can’t navigate roadway interchanges, pedestrians and non-autonomous vehicles, but there are a lot of advantages. The pods are made of mostly easy to find hardware parts, are reliable and the lightweight of the infrastructure makes it almost 10 times more resource efficient than usual road or railway systems.
Ultra has ambitious plans for the future of the pods. Right now, they are working with Indian investors to build a 4.8-mile circuit in the city of Amritsar, north of New Delhi. The network will have seven stations and more than 200 pods to transport up to 50,000 passengers per day.
It’s not hard to think of all of the different ways that these pods can be used – here comes the future of private autonomous transportation.