by , 11/06/07

ULTra PRT, heathrow, transport, future, electric, vehicle, podcar, personal transportation, mass transit

Travelers to London are in for a green transportation treat when traveling from terminal to terminal. The ULTra PRT, by Advanced Transport Systems LTD, is a Personal Rapid Transit vehicle which has the potential to change the way that we travel within cities (and more specifically, airports in this case) around the world. The four-person vehicle itself is battery powered and centrally-controlled (no need for human drivers!), moving on its own elevated guided lane within the airport.

At the moment, the length of the Heathrow airport network is just about 2.2 miles (3.5 km), just long enough for you to get from the terminal to the car park. Don’t think of it as a bus or tram, but rather more like a taxi. If the pilot program is successful, the network will be extended. The maximum speed of the vehicles is 20mph. The Heathrow network will move about 11,000 passengers per day.

According to the manufacturer, the podcars are extremely energy efficient. and produce about 20% CO2 of what a normal vehicle would use. The catch? it is a very expensive system, costing about 6 to 10 million dollars per mile. Is it an idea worth exploring? The Swedish city of Saguna seems to think so, as they have commissioned a feasibility study of an 82km network based on the Skycar system, a competitor of the ULTra.

+ ULTra PRT by Advanced Transport Systems

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  1. kaci white November 4, 2008 at 11:14 am

    uor future is going 2 bee very awsome

  2. brian December 14, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    PRT is nothing new…Nixon built a system at WVU here in the states. It’s a great concept really, but often turns out to be extremely expensive. It’s only feasible over short distances because of its prohibitive costs

  3. John Denvers Airplane L... November 29, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    Hey Mr_Grant, there are only a few spreading the faith-based PRT flim flam, and they are hucksters, scam
    artists and Koolaid drinkers (like you). When it runs thousands of pods on little tracks and does not work then it is PRT as was the Denver Baggage Mangler. And there are no PRT companies, they go out of business as soon as they can spend the public money for non working system studies or “tests”.

  4. Mr_Grant November 29, 2007 at 3:53 am

    The alleged Denver airport “pod system” is really the failed automated baggage-handling system a lot of people have heard about. Almost needless to say, it was not personal rapid transit at all, not based on PRT, and not connected to any PRT company. Google ‘denver (luggage|baggage) “personal rapid transit” ‘ and you’ll find one guy spreading this baseless claim.

  5. John Denvers Ghost November 25, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    Denver airport tried a pod system, United Airlines just successfully stuck the taxpayers for a couple hundred
    million US for the non working system as they wormed out of bankruptcy. Like the Hindenburg blimp PRT is
    just not a workable transit solution. The massive software and hardware disaster was studied by MIT and Harvard and found to be a total failure.

  6. Dilligaf ? November 14, 2007 at 7:11 am

    West Virginia University has had a PRT system for years. It worked great considering how ancient the computers were to control it. Even if there wasn’t a car at the station, it didn’t take more than a couple of minutes for one to show up. I like it better than light rail, and nothing else compares for convenience.

  7. Been Around November 9, 2007 at 4:59 am

    Avidor is obsessed and maniacal. I think maybe his brain got bruised from too many falls off of his tricycle.

  8. Eco-Cide: Exploring Eco... November 9, 2007 at 1:42 am

    […] Inhabitat: The Personal Podcar by Jorge Cha… […]

  9. Someone of no consequence November 8, 2007 at 9:32 am

    In addition to the ULTRA project, there’s a test track in Uppsala that is receiving safety approval from Swedish Rail on a system that’s been under design since 2000. Vectus is a subsidiary of Korean steel giant POSCO, and, with ULTRA and several other serious vendors, has finally brought life to an idea that has been floating around for almost sixty years.

    The Swedish goverenment, through its forward planning agency, SIKA, has identified this as one of their real opportunities to provide transportation in keeping with their official goal of being oil-free by 2020. As with other urbanized areas in Europe, Sweden has tremendous transit systems in Stockholm and over distance, but in suburban areas, it’s all cars. They see PodCars as an essential element that works in mid-density environments in conjunction with their line-haul systems.

    Major consulting firms in the transportation industry have produced studies which show that Podcars have the potential to move significant riders from their cars to a system which is safe, convenient, and reliable. A dozen pilot systems from multiple manufacturers should be up and running by 2010, and we will be able to see exactly how well or poorly these work in practice.

    It’s sad that in the US, the idea of PRT has been used by ideologues in opposition to transit, when it is perceived as a complement to other systems in the rest of the world.

  10. B*A*M*F November 7, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    No One of Consequence, thanks for calling some of the readers of this site on the things they seem to often espouse. There is a strong bent toward a no-tech utopia that really is never going to happen.

  11. No One Of Consequence November 7, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Man! You anti and pro PRT people are quick on the draw. How did you find this article and move your pissing match here so quickly? But Avidor, you win the prize for first pounce. What do you gain from your attacks on PRT and everyone who doesn’t spit and curse as they vomit the letters “PRT”?

    Avidor, the founder of this site is looking for “new ways to improve the world through forward-thinking, high-tech, and environmentally conscious design”. Your “no car, pedestrian-only utopia” fits only into the 3rd of the 3 things this site operator is searching for. But since your utopia is backward thinking and “no-tech”, I doubt your flavor of “environmentally conscious design” is the same as hers. I’ll assume that you think she’s wrong for not thinking the same way you do.

  12. » Pe... November 7, 2007 at 5:50 am

    […] new article on Inhabitat discusses a new 4 person, battery operated ‘pod’ that operates with no drivers.   It […]

  13. Mr_Grant November 7, 2007 at 12:08 am

    Security in PRT.

    What people fear is someone lurking in a station or at a bus stop.

    In a demand responsive system, there is no reason to lurk. A loiterer sticks out like a sore thumb — why don’t they buy a ticket? If they’ve bought a ticket, why don’t they just get in a pod and Go already?

    Designers have also included “panic buttons” in vehicles that can be pushed in event of any emergency. Usually the pod will be routed to the next station and emergency services are automatically contacted.

    There are also security wrries that pods could be used to send explosives. But this can be prevented with engineering. If you watch the Vectus or ULTra videos that show real people riding, you’ll notice there is a Go button inside that must be pressed before the trip can begin.

  14. A Transportation Enthus... November 6, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    You don’t have to ride with anyone unless you want to, so the only way you’d be “alone with a random stranger” is if a stranger forced himself into your pod. What criminal in his right mind would actually force himself into a vehicle with you, knowing that HE also has no means of escaping, and that he will likely be surrounded by cops when he arrives at his desination?

    As for “talking to strangers”, the personal nature of PRT travel is merely a side effect of its primary goals: convenience, availability, and point-to-point non-stop service. It just so happens that these primary goals are most efficiently achieved with individual pods. In other words, you can’t have on-demand point-to-point service in large vehicles, because hardly anyone is ever going to the same place at the same time.

    And anyway, aren’t there better places to socialize than standing at a bus stop in the rain? Wouldn’t you rather hop into a pod have it take you (nonstop) to your favorite pub for happy hour? By the time the bus got you there, happy hour would be over. :-)

  15. naught101 November 6, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    Yay! It’s like a car, but not! more fuel efficient, but still without all that messy social interaction stuff that you get on real public transport. Who’d want to talk to strangers anyway?

    Actually, if you were travelling alone, would you rather get in this with a random stranger, and no apparent means of escape, or community support, or just get in a bus?

  16. A Transportation Enthus... November 6, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    There are a number of reasons why it’s not been implemented, but basically what it comes down to is this: PRT was an idea ahead of its time. It took 40 years for technology to catch up and make it feasible. The Cabintaxi system was remarkable – in the sense that it was fully implemented and tested in an era when computers were bigger than a Buick and less powerful than a your toddler’s Fisher Price toy.

    Today, the computers and mechanics have caught up, and the primary barriers are mainly political.

    Do not pay attention to the Light Rail Now article – it is the product of those who have a keen interest in seeing PRT fail, and it has been debunked many times. See this page which contains links to 4 separate rebuttals.

  17. Hmmmmm November 6, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    Interesting. I esp. ejoyed some of the links showing pros and cons of a system that appears to have been around for 40 years but has never been implemented.

  18. Chris November 6, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    I think it’s a great idea. If the main issues with conventional public transit are speed/convenience and personal comfort/security (the oft-quoted biggest problem with public transit being the “public”), this seems to fit the bill.

    Even if there is a bit of a “last mile” problem, this kind of idea certainly merits further attention. I could envision a “park and ride” type set-up for direct trips into the city core.

  19. Mr_Grant November 6, 2007 at 4:20 pm


    Cabintaxi! I love the soundtrack on that video. That was a well-funded program that resulted in a thoroughly tested system that was, as the narrator says, ready for implementation. See the Wikipedia Cabinentaxi article for the story about what happened to it.

  20. Mr_Grant November 6, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Followup: It occurs to me that the “personal” in PRT should be explained. “Personal” does not mean “privately owned,” but rather the group-size that is catered to: a person.

  21. Mr_Grant November 6, 2007 at 1:17 pm


    The ULTra cars will not be privately owned like automobiles. Imagine all the trains in a train system; PRT is analogous to dividing the trains into segments of 3 to 4 seats each. Because the small vehicles weigh less, the size of the rail is smaller too, which is why the article refers to “elevated guided lane.”

    A PRT system will have a fixed number of vehicles. Each one waits in stations for passengers, takes them nonstop to their destination station, then is available for the next passenger. Frequent vehicle re-use allows the overall PRT network to achieve high capacity.

    Get On Board PRT

  22. cosmoe November 6, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    this remembers me about a blog on our site.
    there you will find some movies about the cabinentaxi. build in germany in the sixties and about the new projekt skytrain…..

  23. Brian November 6, 2007 at 10:50 am

    So it’s $6 to $10 million / mile. That’s not too bad considering Light Rail is a lot more than that. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is expanding its LRT system by 7.5 km at a cost of $600 million dollars (Canadian) or $80 million / km. That’s $650million US for 4.6 miles or $141 million / mile. This is not a gold plated extension. It’s got two grade separated interchanges but the rest is at grade in the median or side of major roadways. How much to the vehicles cost in this PRT system? Are they affordable to individuals?

  24. Avidor November 6, 2007 at 9:55 am

    Personal Rapid Transit is an infeasible concept with a long, controversial history.

    Does anybody really think that people (real people, not the digital mannequins that inhabit the computer-generated simulations on PRT websites) would cut down half the trees on their block for an elevated structure with a clear view into their bedroom window?

    PRT is a ridiculous idea that has wasted a lot of time and money in dozens of cities all over the world. PRT has been promoted here and in other cities by anti-transit, pro-highway individuals and groups who use it as a stalking horse to attack light rail (LRT) as being “too expensive” or “old fashioned”.

    Right now PRT is being used to greenwash aiport expansion at Heathrow Airport.

    According to the Saint Cloud Times, right-wing Minnesota politicians Rep. Dan Severson and Rep. Mark Olson are again proposing PRT in Minnesota.

    Learn more at the Dump Mark Olson Blog and the PRT is a Joke website.

  25. » L’automob... November 6, 2007 at 6:54 am

    […] Pour le moment, les projets se comptent sur les doigts d’une main : outre le terminal d’Heathrow, la ville de Daventry, à 100 km au nord de Londres, a étudié la question (vidéo de 3min ), tout comme la ville de Saguna en Suède qui étudie un réseau de 80km (source : inhabitat ). […]

  26. Electric pod cars to be... November 6, 2007 at 2:56 am

    […] Via Inhabitat […]

  27. Bryce November 6, 2007 at 2:37 am

    Were a city to put in something like this that operated on demand like an elevator, it would revolutionize public transportation.

  28. Michael November 6, 2007 at 1:34 am

    Okay, I am going to trade-in my v12 Lamborghini. The ULTra is one sweet mode of transportation…

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