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The Cars of Logan’s Run Have Left the Maze and Entered the Airport

Logan’s Run Have Left the Maze and Entered the Airport” width=”560″/>

What do You Only Live Twice (1967), Logan’s Run (1976) and The Incredibles (2004) all have in common? Here’s a hint: Bond uses it to traverse a dormant volcano, Logan a domed city and Elastigirl an island. That’s right! They all feature automated pod cars — a mode of transportation that manages to be scifi sexy, but in reality hasn’t fared nearly so well. Until now, that is. A project at Heathrow Airport is hoping to make pod cars a reality — and it’s not the only one. Fasten your personal rapid transit seatbelt because the pods are finally leaving the station.

This month, Heathrow is hosting PRT @ LHR, a conference to unveil the world’s first personal rapid transit (PRT) system. If you think one’s existed before, think again. The closest was a 1970s project in Morgantown, WV, but it’s not a “true” PRT since each car carries up to about twenty people and it runs on a schedule as opposed to working on demand. More importantly, for those of us trying to fulfill a futuristic fantasy, the Morgantown cars don’t look a thing like pods. Not a problem for Heathrow’s ULTra — the world’s first true pod system, which will be open to the public this August.

Built by Advanced Transport Systems, ULTra will link one station in Terminal 5 to two remote stations in the Business car park. Simulation results show that average waiting times will typically be under 15 seconds and that 95 percent of passengers will be served within a minute. You just enter one of 18 four-passenger, battery-powered pods, select your destination and travel along a concrete track guided by laser range finders. If it works, the “maze” will grow to include 350 vehicles and 50 stations serving Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5 and office blocks and hotels in the vicinity around the airport.

Other leaders in PRT tech — Vectus, 2 Get There and Taxi 2000 — will be joining Heathrow’s celebration, along with speakers like Go?ran Tegne?r, a Transport Economist in Sweden who has more than a dozen cities planning pod car systems as part of the country’s commitment to free itself of fossil fuels by 2020. But before you start singing the monorail song, take a look at the other “true” system scheduled for completion this year — this one runs on the ground.

Unlike its gas-guzzling neighbor Dubai, Masdar City in United Arab Emirates is a development designed to emit no carbon dioxide while accommodating up to 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses. People will get around on a PRT system from 2 Get There with pods powered by batteries made of lithium iron phosphate. The vehicles will travel on pavement equipped with embedded magnets placed every five meters and will use the magnets — along with information about wheel angles and speed — to determine their location. If you’re thinking this sounds awfully similar to a Tom Cruise actioner, you’re right: It’s almost the exact system John Anderton used to dodge the Precrime police force in 2002’s Minority Report .

Everyone is looking to see how these systems fare, but both are special cases: Neither system faces any competition, and in Masdar’s case, the city is being constructed so that buildings’ main levels are several meters above the ground — primarily to make room for the PRT. It’s much harder to add the infrastructure for the system to an existing city and to convince people to travel in restricted directions when their cars can go anywhere.

Maybe that’s why they worked so well in those movies: The riders didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. When your boss is a supervillain like Ernst Stavro Blofeld you pretty much do what he says. Once you got off the plane on Syndrome’s island the monorail was kind of the only way to go. And Logan certianly couldn’t ride off in an SUV. It’s called Logan’s Run, after all.

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