Monday, April 19, 2010

Pod cars to connect Swedish universities

STOCKHOLM. A few years from now visitors to Stockholm may be able to travel like they did in old science fiction movies, in driver-less so called pod cars on elevated tracks.
If you can’t wait that long, you might be able to try it at London’s Heathrow Airport later this year when a small personal rapid transit system will be in operation.
About 50 years ago, enthusiastic proponents of eco-friendly futuristic travel saw the personal rapid transit (PRT) as the way to replace the polluting cars of modern cities. The idea never caught on, the main reason being the high cost of investing in something that was untested and by many seen as an unrealistic idea.
But now the world might be ready for PRT and its small, light, electric vehicles (the pod cars) that run on elevated tracks.
Proponents of the system in Stockholm are hoping for a green light and funding from the Swedish government later this year to build a pilot project called Via Academica that will connect the University of Stockholm with the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, two leading research and educational institutions both located in the north eastern part of he city.
The system would be provided by the U.K.-registered South Korean company Vectus that has a test track in Uppsala north of Stockholm.
The pod cars would seat four passengers. Instead of taking a taxi, you just enter your destination at one of the PRT-stops and a vehicle will arrive shortly, with your destination on a display. The pod cars run on elevated tracks four to five meters above the ground.
The system at Heathrow airport will be run by a Welsh company called ULTra. It will connect the new Terminal 5 with a business car park just north of the airport. The 3.9 km system is planned for 21 vehicles.
Another system is underway in South Korean city Suncheon. Transit advocates in Boston, Massachusetts, are trying to generate interest for a system to connect local universities, an idea similar to the plans in Stockholm.
Nobody expects pod cars to replace the automobiles we now have on our streets anytime soon. But PRT systems could provide an interesting option for private travel in public transit style.

Copyright (this photo and above right): Vectus
Pod cars, seating four passengers, provide pivate travel in a public transit system.