Milton Keynes, a city near London, is investing £65 million in infrastructure to enable self driving pods to run in the city. The first 100 ULTra PRT transport pods will hit its streets in 2015, and will travel between the town’s shopping center, office parks, and railway station.
How the driverless pods will work
Each independent pod can seat two passengers with luggage. The pods will travel at 12 mph, on dedicated lanes with special curbs to guide their rubber wheels. The city of Milton Keynes was chosen as a pilot city because it already has wide roads, making it easier to introduce the pods.
Starting in 2017, passengers will pay £2 for a ride, and they’ll be able to hail the pods via a Smartphone app. (The pods have been on trial at Heathrow since 2011, but this is the first time they will be used in an urban area.) The pods are slated to bring in £1 million revenue in the first year itself.
Much like Google’s self-driving cars, the pods will use GPS trackers, high-definition cameras, and ultrasonic sensors to transport passengers to their destination. The sensors will enable them to skirt obstacles like roadworks. Pods will be controlled by a computer onboard.
The pods will have an internal communication system to keep them spread evenly throughout the area without bumping into each other. Initially, the pods will have joysticks to control them as a precautionary measure. Later, the dedicated lanes will also be removed, and the pods will navigate their way among pedestrians.
The pods have electronic motors above each wheel and work on rechargeable batteries, so they are eco-friendly. They are also nearly noiseless. The pods will include big touchscreens so that passengers can surf the internet on their trip. Initially, passengers will be responsible for the vehicles, so they won’t be able to board them while intoxicated.
Why pods are being introduced
“Driverless cars are another invention that has the potential to generate the kind of high-skilled jobs we want Britain to be famous for, as well as cutting congestion and pollution and improving road safety,” says Vince Cable, business secretary.