Heathrow gets driverless cars

Heathrow, the world's busiest airport in terms of international traffic, is getting ready to test what may potentially be the innovation of the century - driverless cars or Personal Rapid Transport (PRT). Users of Heathrow's business car park at Terminal 5, who leave their car at the car park at a cost of £21 per day or £294 per month will be able to use the PRT system free of charge.

Users simply summon a PRT vehicle, which can carry up to five passengers, and select their destination; they will then be taken from the car park to the terminal (or vice-versa) in just three to four minutes. The system does not use any rails and uses laser guidance to reach its destination quickly and safely. A central computer ensures that the pods travel at sustained speeds and manages the traffic on the network. The pods are able to travel at a top speed of 25mph (40kmph) which is just as fast a bus but with the luxury of a taxi.

Professor Martin Lowson, invenntor of the PRT system, said that the system could be capable of being able to "transform cities" and that it was a form of "environmentally friendly urban transport, relieving congestion and reducing emissions." In fact it runs on electricity and is calculated to use only half of the power of a bus to transport the same number of passengers.

New Scientist claims that if the system is successful it may be expanded "to the entire airport." There are currently three stations with 21 cars running at a time but if expanded it could potentially include 50 stations with 400 cars.

The system debuts in 2010 at Heathrow airport but it could be potentially used in the future as a replacement for cars - imagine if you could get a vehicle to safely and quickly take you where and when you want to go. You wouldn't need to refuel it and it would be the end of congestion - and your CO2 emissions would be cut down by at least 50%. The real question is whether people would want to abandon the freedom of driving their own cars for the efficiency of one of these new pods.


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