Taxis without drivers

The European 'CityMobil' project which involves 28 partners in 10 countries at a cost of €40 million plans to eliminate city drivers and three trial sites have already been selected. For example, in 2008, Terminal 5 in London's Heathrow airport will be connected to the car park by driverless electric cars along a 4-kilometer track.

Almost all of us can recall both good and poor memories of taxi rides when we arrived in a city we didn't know. This is why a short article from Spiegel Online, 'Bringing Robot Transportation to Europe,' caught my eye this morning. It briefly describes the European 'CityMobil' project which involves 28 partners in 10 countries at a cost of €40 million. This project plans to eliminate city drivers and three trial sites have already been selected. For example, in 2008, Terminal 5 in London's Heathrow airport will be connected to the car park by driverless electric cars along a 4-kilometer track. But read more...

Here are more details about these driverless cars.

At London's Heathrow Airport, starting in summer of 2008, 19-computer steered electric cars will go into operation. The automated taxis will be used to connect Heathrow's Terminal 5 with a parking lot. The technology, which has been named "ULTra," has been developed by the British firm ATS and is already being tested. The driverless vehicles pick up passengers after they are ordered and deliver them to their destination. Magnets or sensors on the ground direct the vehicles along their route.

Below is a picture of one ULTra PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) vehicle (Credit: ATS Ltd).

An ULTra driverless car

And here is another picture of two of these driverless robotic cars (Credit: ATS Ltd). Here is a link to a picture gallery about the ULTra system.

Two ULTra driverless taxis

And here are the goals of this 'CityMobil' project.

The overall objective of this project is to achieve a more effective organisation of urban transport, resulting in a more rational use of motorised traffic with less congestion and pollution, safer driving, a higher quality of living and an enhanced integration with spatial development. This objective is brought closer by developing integrated traffic solutions: advanced concepts for innovative autonomous and automated road vehicles for passengers and goods, embedded in an advanced spatial setting.

And this is why this project plans to suppress the drivers, as the European Community Research & Development Information Service (CORDIS) reminds us in 'Driving you to emptier roads.'

CityMobil envisages driverless public transport systems taking you exactly where you want to go, and when you want to go. 'The on-demand factor is very important, even using a fixed infrastructure, you could arrange, on demand, a vehicle, which could then take you to anywhere you might want to go,' explains Jan P. van Dijke[, from Netherlands-based TNO Science and Industry, which coordinated the project.]

Finally, here is a short description of projects which will be implemented at the two other selected sites in Rome, Italy and in Castellón, Spain.

In Rome, special driverless 'cybercars' will take visitors between a new exhibition centre, the car park and nearby railway station. Finally, in Castellón, special buses that can run either with or without a driver, depending on the traffic conditions, will operate in the town centre.

And as writes the Spiegel, "that's only the beginning."

Sources: Spiegel Online, September 7, 2006; and various web sites

You'll find related stories by following the links below.