The ULTra PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) electric robot pods, previewed by Airport International back in August 2009, have now entered full operational service at the UK's flagship airport, London Heathrow.
Commissioned by Heathrow's operator, BAA, and developed by the ULTra PRT firm, the system's comprised of 3.86 kilometres of track and 22 individual pods.
The pods, which are entirely autonomous, link a pair of parking lots with the airport's newest passenger facility, Terminal 5, and they're available around the clock. That's not to say that they run 24/7, but that a passenger can ‘hail' one any time he/she likes.
In the absence of a constantly-running service, the system reportedly saves energy, compared to older transport methods. There are other environmental features, too, including the batteries that power them, which are recycled once they've been worn out.
Heathrow Robot Taxi
The frame of each Heathrow robot taxi is constructed from a plastic/steel mixture, making it fairly lightweight, while tubeless 13 inch tyres run between the underside of the pods and the track. The track itself is two-way, allowing multiple services to be run at one time.
Each pod is capable of accommodating four passengers plus their luggage and, at present, they're used by something like 800 passengers on a daily basis. The speed of these airport robot pods peaks at about 25 miles per hour and, since the fleet became operational, they've shown themselves to be pretty reliable, with a five per cent failure rate.
The Personal Rapid Transport concept is not unique to Heathrow Airport but nowhere else has it been implemented on the same kind of scale.
ULTra PRT Airport System
Research is now taking place into expanding use of the ULTra PRT airport system into other parts of the hub, potentially involving additional Heathrow terminals.
In related news, London Heathrow has set a new monthly passenger record of 6.9 million passengers.
Commenting on the figures, which related to July 2011, BAA attributed them to a leap in long-haul flights, amongst other factors. In fact, the final day of the month - Sunday 31 - was the busiest ever day at London Heathrow.
Image copyright ULTra PRT - www.ultraprt.com