As we get closer to the MCAV ‘future of transport’ event on the 27th June, the excitement is building! As we contemplate a driverless future, it makes us consider what technological features autonomous vehicles will have, and how they will operate. The concept of roads and motorways full of driverless vehicles also makes one wonder what the cars will look like? Will they look the same? Go at the same speed? How will the car operate in real terms, and how long will we have to wait for them before they arrive to collect us? If only there was a model already out there, that we could use to base our answers on?
Enter, the POD!
Since 2011, the POD at Heathrow Airport, has been operating every day – taking passengers from terminal 5 to the business passenger car park in the busiest airport in England. The POD has a unique, futuristic appearance to it; almost appearing more like a robot than a moving vehicle!
The POD’s black and white design is very simple, and it looks cool whilst transporting passengers to and from car parks, saving them the hassle of walking with heavy luggage, or queuing for a bus.
The POD holds 4 seats, and a weight of up to 500 kilograms. It holds a lot more than just travel luggage; there is wheelchair access and even shopping trollies if passengers have gone overboard with the duty-free shopping! It travels at 25 miles per hour along its track, and the laser technology on the POD’s wheels ensures that it does not bump in to the barriers that guide the POD along its route.
The POD is also capable of travelling up a gradient of 20% which is fine for the route at Heathrow, but improvements will obviously be needed if it is to hit the actual roads! The POD currently has a 5-metre turning radius, allowing it to perform its functions very neatly.
The POD is powered by 4 batteries, and is computer-controlled. When it is not in use, the POD automatically charges, and this is one of its defining features. If cars could re-fuel themselves, just think how much easier our lives would be?! Furthermore, when the POD is in operation, it has zero emissions, so the environmental benefits by using the POD is priceless. It has already replaced buses that used to take passengers along the same route, and if this was to be rolled out on a much larger scale the environment and planet will be in a much better condition. Overall, it has been estimated that the POD is 70% more efficient than a car.
It is not only environmental factors that are improved by using the POD over buses. Before the POD came along, it took passengers around 15 minutes to travel along the route in a bus. The POD takes just 5 minutes to cover the 3.5-kilometre distance. The waiting time is only approximately 30 seconds too; another huge benefit to passengers who want to minimise their waiting time at the airport.
How easy is it to use?
As previously mentioned, the cars are operated via a computer – simply use one of the touchscreens at the station to say where you want to go and it will take you. During the route, if there are any problems, there is a manned control room. The cars are electric and autonomous, so don’t expect to make small talk with the driver!
The POD provides a real-life example of what driverless vehicles could be like on our roads, and demonstrates that the technology already exists. Saving time, the environment and stress (at one of the most stressful locations in the UK!) the POD seems like a definite winner. Big steps are needed to take place before the POD is released on mainstream roads, but the POD used at Heathrow airport gives us hope that the driverless revolution is not too far away!
If you want to take a look at the POD, or discuss any other aspects of our driverless future, the MCAV ‘future of transport’ event is the perfect place to do this. The event will take place on the 27th June, at Birmingham’s iCentrum. Please contact us if you are interested in attending, or sponsoring the event.
By Neil Phipps