Getting around an airport can be tricky, particularly if you need to get to a connecting flight at another terminal that’s physically separate from where you are. Many large airports have some form of light rail or subway to take care of the people moving, but the drawbacks are having to wait for them, then being jammed into a car with a lot of other people, and finally the possibility of traveling a less than direct route to your destination.
PRTs (Personal Rapid Transit) address those issues with small driverless cars that are waiting for you like a taxi, are scaled for smaller groups of people, and can go where you need to go rather than following a simple loop track. The ULTra system is one such PRT that has recently gone into service at London’s busy Heathrow Airport. The electrically-driven cars accommodate four people (plus luggage) and have a maximum speed of 25 mph (40 kph). Cars can be remotely moved around the system to accommodate changing demand throughout the day. The Heathrow system links a station in Terminal 5 to two other stations in a parking area, with a travel time of 5 – 6 minutes. The airport reports a 60% improvement in travel time and a 40% decrease in operating cost with the PRTs.
Check out the two videos below. The first is a promo from the company, showing how the system is envisioned to work around airports and office buildings. The second is real footage of a car in operation at Heathrow.