Driverless pods to get airport users off to a flying start
The Daily Telegraph
By David Millward, Transport Correspondent
20 October 2005
They look like something from a science fiction film, but these squat pods will be coming to Heathrow airport very soon.
Not exactly beautiful, but certainly highly functional, the driverless capsules will take passengers and their luggage from the car park to the terminal lounge.
Heathrow has ordered 18 of the pods for a year-long test on two miles of track starting in 2008. At first they will be used to link a car park on the perimeter of the airport to Terminal One.
The difference for passengers will be not so much the journey time -- which will be about four minutes -- but how long they have to wait.
Instead of huddling under a shelter for as long as 20 minutes as they currently do waiting for a bus, the pod will be at most a minute away.
While not blindingly fast, the battery-powered pods will travel at up to 25 mph on a concrete track, entering the airport via the small service tunnels which run alongside the road tunnel linking Heathrow to the M4 spur. They will be guided by an array of sensors alongside the pathway.
Martin Lowson, the founder of Advanced Transport Systems, could scarcely contain his enthusiasm yesterday over the baby he has been developing for a decade.
"People may arrive at Heathrow in style in their BMWs and Mercedes, but then they have to hoik their luggage out of the boot and clamber on to a bus," he said.
"Hopefully their journey will now be better. The transport will be waiting for you rather than you waiting for the transport."
He added that the one-year trial could merely be a taster of a far more radical scheme, which could be in place by 2012 if all goes well with the Terminal One experiment.
BAA hopes to roll out the network to encompass the other terminals and eventually to airports across the country.
In short, it could change the tired image of Heathrow, giving a facelift to an airport under pressure from competitors on the Continent for the title of Europe's main hub.
Taking in the new terminal five and all car parks, the scheme will need 30 miles of track and up to 500 capsules.
It could, for example, cut from 75 minutes to 10 minutes the time a passenger has to allow for transfer from a flight arriving at Terminal One to another departing from Terminal Four.
The pods are capable of using sophisticated computer technology which would, for example, take a passenger to the correct terminal once the flight number is tapped in on a console. The computer could also read flight details on a chip embedded in a passenger's frequent flyer card and the rubber-wheeled capsules could even go direct to the check-in desk.
"Every booking has a name attached to it," said Mr Lowson. "Getting a computer to identify the flight and take a passenger to the correct terminal is simple data processing.
"It is just an extension of the automatic check in process which airports have at the moment."