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Electric Driverless Cabs – The Future or Fad?

Thursday, 26 Nov 2009 | 9:43 AM ET

Ever wished your cab driver would stop nattering and just get to where you're going? Well the new driverless cabs being trialed at London's Heathrow airport could be for you.

The Personal Rapid Transit units called "pods" will shuttle up to 4 passengers and their bags from specific spots in the airport's business car park to Terminal 5 in a matter of minutes, the British Airport Association said in a press release.

The service is due to be launched in the spring of 2010 and is being touted as a carbon neutral alternative to the taxi rank. The pods run purely on electricity, generate zero local emissions and are typically 70 percent more energy-efficient than traditional airport buses, the BAA said.

Whether driverless electric cabs turn out to be the urban transport method of choice in the future or just a fad remains to be seen. One person hoping to see the system take off is Professor Martin Lowson, who has been developing the cab for 15 years.

He has big plans for the pods and sees them as a possible solution to congested city centers.

When the system is launched it is expected to be used by 500,000 passengers a year, but is still in the testing phase, BAA said.

The System uses AVP (Automatic Vehicle Protection) which provides “ultimate protection to the vehicle,” the statement said. It is based on a fixed block signaling system like those used on railways.

The cabs drive themselves around a grid, reaching speeds to up to 25 miles per hour (40kph), using laser sensors and computer controls.

Some will surely miss the witty banter of London's cabbies, but at least they won't have to tip.

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