London, England - What could public transport look like in the future? One idea being tested at Heathrow Airport is a network of personal driverless pods. Gliding along tracks, these pod cars will take passengers non-stop to their destinations, cutting down on congestion and pollution. If they're a success, we could see pod cars in cities all around the world, says the company behind the scheme.
As part of its centenary celebrations the London Science Museum is hosting an exhibit titled "The Making of the Modern World", featuring 10 icons which changed the world as we know it, ranging from Penicillin to the V-2 missile. One of these icons is Stephenson's Rocket, the first commercially successful steam locomotive, which is credited with launching the railway era, 180 years ago.
But the museum is also looking towards the future. Exhibited alongside the steam locomotive will be two ULTra Personal Rapid Transit vehicles, which may become the 21st-century equivalent of Stephenson's Rocket.
"Obviously this is very flattering for us and a real testament to the work of everyone on the team," said Martin Lowson, founder of Advanced Transport Systems, the makers of ULTra. Scientists and engineers from Advanced Transport Systems will be present at the Science Museum to answer the public's questions and to demonstrate how the ULTra vehicles work.
The Pods moved into operational testing as part of Heathrow's Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system last month. When live, the system will see passengers board PRT vehicles at one of three stations and select their destination via touch screen. They will then be transported directly to their destination without any stops in between.
The Heathrow PRT is the world's first, designed to make passenger journeys quicker and reduce congestion on airport roads. It consists of 21 low-energy, battery-powered, driverless vehicles capable of carrying four passengers.
John Holland-Kaye, commercial director of system designers Advanced Transport Systems, said: "I am excited about the trialling of Personal Rapid Transit at Heathrow and am proud of the dedicated work of staff to deliver this pioneering project. Today marks a big step forward and the team will now focus on operational testing, with vehicles becoming a familiar sight along the guideway during this process.
"When launched, the PRT trial will offer an exciting, quick and environmentally friendly option for passengers travelling from the business park to Terminal 5."
Graham Bradburn, chief executive of Advanced Transport Systems, added: "Today marks the beginning of bringing the working system to life, as operational testing starts. It is hard to overplay the significance of reaching this stage in the project. It is the physical manifestation of many years work for ATS and BAA, and represents the vision of the original individuals involved."