Electric pod cars: coming to an airport near you

London's Heathrow Airport is using electric pod cars to help travelers move between parking lots. Can they work in the United States?

We've previously written about the use of pod cars for transit in extremely dense areas , but the city of London is already using them for another reason: airport transportation.

The New York Times' Wheels blog notes this morning that Heathrow Airport has employed the solution in its Terminal 5, where the vehicles connect the terminal’s two business parking lots.

The pod cars are manufactured by ULTra PRT and began service in April.

Jim Witkin describes the experience:

Starting from the second level in Terminal 5, I recently took the pods for a chaperoned test drive — or more accurately, they took me. The electric cars have no visible accelerator or steering wheel; rather, they are completely automated and travel along a dedicated guideway. My only input consisted of a button push, which indicated my destination.

Quiet and comfortable were my first impressions of the five-minute ride between the terminal and parking lot. Onboard, the only sound over the familiar whirr of the electric motor was the recorded voice announcement from the iPad-like control panel inside the car, assuring me that I was “almost there.”

The pod cars can go up to 25 miles per hour, can carry four passengers plus luggage and have yet to experience any collisions, Witkin reports.

Twenty-two electric pod cars replaced two diesel-powered buses that made 216 trips every day. They're a sound solution for the endless loops that airport transportation must make. (Plus, they're not nearly as expensive as a monorail.)

We'd sure like to see them Stateside, and not just in airports: sprawling office campuses and fringe urban areas where traditional public transit options don't reach would be perfect for this. (For example, New York City could certainly use a few to connect the Javits Convention Center to the subway until the 7 train extension is built.)

Photos: ULTra PRT

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com