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Pods invade Heathrow!

Pods invade Heathrow....................(ultra.jpg)

It's hardly the B-movie it sounds like. In fact, the pods that are currently invading Heathrow Airport are pretty benign creatures. Beneficial. Eco-friendly. Quiet. ULTra is a new Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system that uses small, silent, electric vehicles driven by computers to navigate a network of guideways. And they've just undergone operational testing at Heathrow

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When launched, ULTra's zero-emission vehicles will travel between the business car park and Terminal 5, combining the best of public and private transport. Passengers will jump into a pod, select their destination via touch screen, and travel straight there without any stops.

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The idea is to reduce congestion at the airport, speed up travel time, and save energy. The network will consist of 21 battery-powered, driverless vehicles capable of carrying four passengers and using 50 percent less energy than other forms of public transit.

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Says inventor Martin Lowson, 'It's a world first. The basic idea of Personal Rapid Transport has been around for a while but this is the first contract anywhere in the world. It's like a personal automatic taxi, but it runs on a special road which can obviously be a much smaller road than you would normally have to use.

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'We sat down,' he adds, 'and said what is the best possible transport for the 21st century. We started by saying what do people want out of transport? They want it to be available when they want it, takes them to a place they want to go without stopping.'

The network is already in place, and plans are underway to expand it throughout the airport. RM

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