Futuristic Urban Light Transport (ULTra) in London’s Heathrow Airport (video)
In operational testing since July, at Heathrow Airport in London, a network of personal driverless pods are taking passengers non-stop to their destinations, cutting down on congestion and pollution. ULTra (Urban Light Transport) is an innovative form of Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). It is designed to meet the expectations of passengers – convenient, inexpensive, reliable, safe and easy to use, while also satisfying public demands for value for money, ease of construction and environmental benefit. As convenient as, or in congested environments more convenient than, the car, but with minimal environmental impact.
Advanced Transport Systems Ltd (ATS), headquartered in Bristol, England, began developing the ULTra personal rapid transit system in 1995 in association with the University of Bristol. A fleet of low power, electrically driven vehicles on a dedicated guideway network of routes. The operation of the system and movement of the vehicles on the network is managed by software and systems developed by ATS. The ULTra system utilizes modern computing and information technologies to provide a new approach to transport. Off-the-shelf technology, mostly from the automotive industry, provides mature, well proven and reliable systems and components.
The ULTra vehicles include heating and air conditioning, spacious with seats for 4 adults and ample space for shopping, pushchairs and luggage. It features a flat floor which aligns accurately with stations to allow safe easy access for push chairs, wheelchairs, luggage and people. The vehicle meets DDA and ADA access requirements. The system is available to all, including the young, the old, and those with disabilities. Controls, lighting and information systems are designed to the latest standards to aid usability. Disability groups have tested the system and commented very favorably.
ULTra provides a fully personal and secure service. Passengers have exclusive use of their vehicles and travel only with chosen companions. The system can readily be arranged to offer fully private vehicles and/or fully private stations not accessible to other users.
The innovative design of the ULTra system provides unique advantages: ULTra can operate at-grade or elevated either within or external to buildings, offering the opportunity for significant benefits to the passenger. Low loading footprint means that the system can be carried by conventional building structure with no need for structural strengthening. The vehicle has a small (5 m / 16.4 ft), turning radius and readily copes with grades of 20%, although operating routes are limited to 10% to ensure passenger comfort. The ULTra system is highly adaptable. Modular design and construction techniques makes addition of further routes straightforward.
* 450 kg (1,000 lb) payload
* 40 kph (25 mph) maximum speed
* Immediate service: Passengers rarely need to wait for a vehicle, since the empty vehicle management system ensures that one will already be at the station. Simulations demonstrate that average waiting times, even in peak periods, average less than 15 seconds.
* Non stop travel: due to off-line stations, the journey is non stop from start to destination, anywhere on the network.
* No need to plan trips, consider schedules, or transfer between vehicles.
* Faster than other urban transport, typically by a factor of two or three. Although maximum speeds are modest (25 mph), non-stop service ensures short trip times.
* Travel is reliable, predictable and congestion free affording passengers greater certainty in their journeys.
* Travel is safe: ULTra’s target is safety levels at least as good as trains, approximately 10 times higher than automotive safety. Also segregation implies less conflict with non-users.
ULTra provides sustainable urban trans port with major benefits to non-users and to the community as a whole:
* ULTra is energy efficient: Light, small, efficient vehicles traveling non-stop and only on demand result in significant energy savings. ULTra saves 2/3 rds of automotive energy requirements, and is substantially more energy efficient than conventional public transport.
* ULTra meets Kyoto sustainability targets; providing the required 60% reduction in carbon emissions over the car now, rather than by the 2050 target date of the Kyoto agreement – 35 years ahead.
* ULTra is exceptionally quiet: measurements on the prototype vehicle running at 10m/s give 45dBA at 10 m, around 20 dB less than cars.
* Lightweight vehicles permit ultra-light infrastructure: Automated control allows high utilization. Small vehicles and guideways imply less land take and less visual intrusion.
* ULTra reduces congestion: Studies indicate significant shifts away from the car, freeing up both road capacity and parking space.
* Minimum visual intrusion: elevated sections of the guideway are only 45cms (18 inches) deep and can span 36m (118 ft) if required, while the vehicles are small and unobtrusive.
* Low cost and resource use. The infrastructure uses between one third and one tenth of the resources of competing form of transport providing major benefits in sustainability, cost and construction time.
Total investment on the project to date from all sources is around £15 m (23.87 million U.S. dollars).
The green transportation system of the future has arrived, at least at Heathrow Airport — as the green future unfolds!