Futuristic pods whisk travelers around UK airport

Fri Sep 16, 2011 12:37pm EDT
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By Philip Brook

(Reuters) - Laser-guided travel pods that work without drivers or timetables were officially unveiled at London's Heathrow airport on Friday.

The system, which featured in an exhibition on the future of transport at London's Science Museum in 2009, has become a reality, reducing the time it takes business passengers to move from terminal to car park by 60 percent.

Traveling at speeds up to 40 km/hour (25 mph), after an average wait of just 34 seconds, the system looks like something straight from a science fiction film.

The pods, which run along tracks and allow passengers to select their destinations, use laser sensors to ferry business passengers and their luggage along a 3.8 km route.

According to ULTra, the company behind the technology, the 30 million pound ($47 million) development could transport up to 500,000 passengers each year and replace 50,000 shuttle bus journeys.

The British invention, which has been on trial at Heathrow since April, is the culmination of over 60 years of development. First dreamed up in the 1950s, it has now become a working reality under ULTra PRT president and former NASA engineer, Martin Lowson who championed the idea while lecturing at Bristol University in the 1990s.

The company, now part owned by Ferrovial's British airports division BAA, is confident that the technology will prove popular. India recently announced it will pilot the system around Delhi and Amritsar and feasibility studies are currently in progress in Raleigh, North Carolina in the United States. ($1 = 0.633 British Pounds)

(Edited by Paul Casciato)