Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) System

What was interesting about the Hollywood blockbuster, ‘The Minority Report’ ?For ‘Mr. Holmes’, it could be the intriguing story itself: in a future where a special police unit is able to arrest murderers before they commit their crimes, an officer from that unit is himself accused of a future murder. For engineers, it probably would be sequences that showed bunch of driverless vehicles crisscrossing the city.

The fleet of autonomous vehicles zooming on the sides of sky scrapers, probably, was too far in the future. But, the quest to build driverless vehicles for roads by likes of Google, Uber, and other private bodies is going to time-warp some of those fantasies. In fact, scaled down versions of such futuristic system of vehicles called Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) Systems have existed for several decades.

PRT ( Personal Automated Transport Or pod-car ) :

PRT is envisioned as a network of small, one or two person automated pods that deliver passengers to a destination of their choice without stops. These systems, also called personal automated transport or pod-car, are supposed to be used for public transportation built as small automated vehicles operating on a network of specially-built guide ways.

Typical design for such PODS includes the sizing of vehicles for individual or small group travel, typically carrying no more than 3 to 6 passengers per vehicle, the arrangement of guide ways to be in a network topology, with all stations located on sidings, and with frequent merge / diverge points, and the creation of a central hub with control systems / mechanisms. This approach allows for nonstop, point-to-point travel, bypassing all intermediate stations. The point-to-point service is akin to a taxi or a horizontal lift (elevator).

PRT was a major area of study in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1975, Morgantown PRT, an experimental automated system which exhibits some (but not all) features of PRT, was opened to the public after significant construction cost overruns. Morgantown PRT remains in use today, and there have been discussions on expanding it.

A PRT system went into operation in Masdar City in the UAE in November 2010. The system had 10 passenger and 3 freight vehicles serving 2 passenger and 3 freight stations connected by 1.2 kilometers of one-way track. The system was in operation 18 hours a day, seven days a week serving the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. Trips took about 2 and a half minutes (i.e., an average speed of roughly 12mph / 20km/h) and were free of charge. Average wait times were expected to be about 30 seconds.

Few of the recent developments in building such Pod-guide-way transit have been at the Heathrow Airport and at the West Virginia University. In fact, several test tracks are operational at Heathrow now. A pilot system at London Heathrow Airport, United Kingdom, was constructed using the ULTra design. Originally scheduled to be operational in 2009, it underwent 4 weeks of public trials where it achieved a 99.6% availability. Note that 97.5% is considered transit level of service A. Several cities have recently expressed interest in PRT. Two small city-based systems are currently in development, in Suncheon, South Korea and Amritsar, India.

PRT could be a boon for ever-increasing population of emerging countries, which are typically associated with inefficient management of people and systems. Driverless vehicles can free up infrastructure and make lives safer and more productive.

Obviously, emerging countries can leap frog to build Google / Uber envisioned driverless vehicles. However with inadequate infrastructure in developing countries, fruition of such plans may take some time.

Indian engineers have shown leadership in building cutting edge software, vision processing systems, GPS based technologies, and technology solutions atop maps. It wouldn’t be a long wait till someone amalgamates existing skills and builds an impeccable system of driverless vehicles tuned to our infrastructure.

Note: Information / facts are from publicly available sources