Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Driverless Pods at Heathrow Feature Plastic Components


In late 2010 there was a flurry of buzz about Google’s driverless car, but generally speaking, automated vehicles are still considered futuristic in the U.S. Not so at London’s Heathrow Airport, where 22 automated driverless pods currently are carrying passengers between Terminal 5 and the parking lots. Two diesel buses that were during the job have been taken out of service, and some plastic processors have been busy making components.

A pod comes to meet you when you call for one, and after you get in and push a button, it takes you directly to your destination. Up to six passengers and luggage can make the trip in the aptly named pods at up to 25 mph over 2.4 miles of paved guideways. Their smooth design makes excellent use of major plastic components.

Pod people movers at Heathrow Airport

The exterior body panels, which are welded to a steel frame, are vacuum-formed ABS, as are the door panels. The door glazing is laminated glass, however the rounded quarter windows that contribute much to the futuristic look of these laser-guided, wirelessly operated electric vehicles, are made of vacuum-formed acrylic. Interior panels are vacuum formed from acrylic with a grained surface. acrylic

The pods and other system components, which are made by UK-based ULTra PRT (formerly Advanced Transport Systems Ltd), may soon bring the future to North America. The company has proposals at Santa Clara, San Jose, and Mountain View, CA, Tysons Corner, VA, and Calgary, Alberta, among others. The system is said to be less expensive than light rail to install and to operate, a definite plus for cash-strapped local governments.

For another example of how plastics continue to find more uses in vehicles of all types, take a look at the two new BMW electric and hybrid cars.


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