LONDON Within a few years passengers at Heathrow Airport could be whisked from passenger car parks to terminals in futuristic driverless taxis. The technology behind these four-seater computer-controlled vehicles has been developed by Bristol University spin-out company Advanced Transport Systems (ATS).
The ATS ULTra Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system has been chosen by the British Airports Authority to improve access to its terminals at Heathrow. The agreement also includes an investment of £7.5million in ATS by BAA in return for 25% of the equity. The investment has been organised with help from ICON Corporate Finance which acts for technology, communications and media companies advising them on raising venture capital, exits, acquisitions, MBOs and private placings.
The prototype ULTra system has been under development since 1999, with Government support from the Department of Transport, the Department of Trade and Industry, NESTA, and the EC. The prototype system was given consent by HM Rail Inspectorate to carry passengers in 2003.
ATS is to provide the system of driverless taxis and dedicated infrastructure in a year long trial at Heathrow, which if successful will be rolled out to the all terminals as well as other airports. The best location for the pilot scheme is currently under review.
ULTra offers a new form of public transport, one that waits for the passenger rather than the passenger waiting for it. This is a new solution to the problems of urban transport, but one that uses off the shelf technology.
ULTra it said to save more than half of the fuel used by existing forms of public or private transport.
ATS was set up in 1995 and has been funded to date by a mixture of internal funding and contract funding from both Government and customers, together with significant 'in-kind' support from major industrial partners. The work has been supported by the Department for Transport, the Department for Trade and Industry, NESTA and the EC.
The ULTra system uses a fleet of low power, electrically driven vehicles on a dedicated guideway network of routes. The operation of the system and movement of the vehicles on the network is managed by software and systems developed by ATS.