Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My free ride on a Heathrow Terminal 5 ULTRa Pod

I've been following PRT and the ULTRA project at Heathrow in particular since 2005, so I've been getting rather excited by the prospect of trying it out.

Eventually I got tired of waiting for an opportunity to use the Terminal 5 business car park where the first loop seems to be in a Google-like extended beta, so I just took a bus from work to Heathrow, followed signs to the business car park via level two of the short term car park, and there it was.

(If the image above is at right-angles to reality, use my Google+ version instead)

(Sorry the video is totally un-edited - I'll update it to something shorter and snappier once I've got on top of the necessary file conversion and editing tool stack)

There's a lot to like about this form of transport:

  • The pods wait for you, not vice-versa
  • They're comfortable - there's no need to stand because you were the last aboard
  • They take you straight to your stop without stopping at anyone else's stops
  • They take you closer to your destination than a tram or rail line, and aren't scared of a little gradient either
  • They're more wheelchair friendly than the bus (though wheelchair users - and suitcase stackers - might benefit from a warning of any gradients)
  • Reduced greenhouse effects and zero local air pollution

Were there any negatives?

  • The ride was a little bumpier and noisier than I expected, but totally tolerable
  • The Door Open and Door Close buttons are familiar from lifts (elevators) and commuter trains, but in neither context is there a separate Start button - I don't mind it, but I really can't see its purpose
  • I'm pleased to see that you can go from any one of the three stops to any other one, but I'm really looking forward to seeing the scalability I mentioned in my 2005 post, and we won't see that until you have multiple linked circuits

So overall, the experience was everything I'd hoped for. Sadly we won't see it at the London Olympics, but I look forward to seeing it rolled out to airports, campuses and town centres all over the world.

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