The town of Milton Keynes in southern England plans to make driverless pods an integral part of its public transportation system.
The computer-driven pods will feature rubber wheels and run on a specially built roadway instead of a fixed track, setting the vehicles apart from the tram and light rail systems which have so long been fixtures of urban centres around the globe.
The pods, which go by the official moniker of “Ultra PRT transport pods,” will also differ from conventional urban transportation systems in their compact size, bearing a marked resemblance to truncated train carriages. Passengers will be able to summon the pods via their smartphones and will enter and disembark from the vehicles via sliding doors on their sides.
The price per trip will be just two British pounds, which passengers will also be able to pay through their smartphones.
The pods will be capable of accommodating two passengers at a time, and traveling at speeds of up to 12 miles (or approximately 19.3 kilometres) per hour. Each pod will operate independently via an onboard computer system and the use of sophisticated sensors which ensure the safety of both riders and pedestrians. In order to further shore up the safety of the system, passengers will also have the option of assuming control of the vehicle in the case of emergency.
Another distinctive feature of the automated vehicles will be the use of battery-powered electric motors instead of conventional fossil fuel engines. Various stations situated along the system’s standard routes will enable the pods to recharge their batteries with ease when required.
The driverless pods were developed by British engineering firm Ultra Global PRT, which was founded by University of Bristol academic Martin Lowson in Cardiff 1995 under the name Advanced Transport Systems.
The company has based much of its technology on research originally done at the University of Bristol in the 1990s, and has received government support in the form of funding from the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) on two occasions.
The 65 billion pound project is scheduled to commence operation in 2015, with full completion expected by 2017. Milton Keynes was selected as the site for the technology’s urban debut due to both its broad roadways and proximity to London, situated only around 70 kilometres away from the nation’s capital.
The Milton Keynes government envisages using a total of 100 driverless pods to ferry passengers around the centre of the town, between the retail district, the business district and the train station, serving as a far more flexible replacement for buses confined to fixed routes and schedules.
The deployment of the driverless pods is a part of the British government’s efforts to introduce more sustainable, environmentally friendly technologies to the UK’s urban environments. The driverless pods are expected to be a cheaper and cleaner form of transportation than the existing public bus system, because of the economy that their flexible routes afford as well as their use of electric motors.
The pods have already been deployed in London’s Heathrow Airport, where 21 of the vehiclees have run on 4 kilometres of track since 2011 without any major hazardous events.