Could Heathrow's Autonomous Podcars Be Scalable to City-Wide Use?

Fully Charged/Video screen capture

Lloyd has mixed feelings about PRT (Personalized Rapid Transit). He has described these driverless on-demand vehicles as a cyberspace technodream. And while he has agreed that Heathrow's now operational PRT system makes sense in replacing buses that are often running half-empty throughout the night, he questioned whether such an expensive system could ever be scalable to city-wide use or the suburbs.

The answer is still out on that one. But whether or not we believe PRT can be made to work on a large scale, we should accept one thing: PRT looks really, really fun.

And if you're not convinced, then take a look at Robert Llewellyn's face as he takes one of these space-age vehicles for a test drive. (Or, more accurately, a test ride...)

Fully Charged/Video screen capture

Besides the boyish enthusiasm, Robert talks with Professor Martin Lowson - President, Fraser Brown - Managing Director, and Adam Ruddle - Head of Engineering, of Ultra Global PRT—the company behind Heathrow's system. Besides explaining how the Heathrow system works, where it gets really interesting is where they start discussing potential hybrid systems that can be operated as electric cars from home, and then operated as a PRT once it reaches a city's PRT track system.

In many ways, this is the reverse vision of what Lloyd was so skeptical about. Rather than lay out miles and miles of PRT "track" in the suburbs,and then have pods deliver folks to mass transit, this vision uses more traditional personal vehicles for the first leg of the journey, and then automated PRT tracking to keep things moving once they reach the city.

How feasible is it? The PRT folks themselves say it is a long way off. But then the system at Heathrow would have looked like total science fiction not so long ago.

We live in interesting times.

Tags: Electric Cars | London | Public Transportation | United Kingdom

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