Basildon firm wins contract to build T5 driverless personal transport pod prototype

Basildon based company ARRK R&D is building prototypes that are set to revolutionise passenger movement at Heathrow's Terminal 5.

The 19 ‘ULTra' pods are being designed and hand-built in Basildon and will be used for the second phase of trials in June ahead of the launch in November of Heathrow's new Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) system that will take passengers to and from Terminal 5 and the business car park. The ULTra is driverless and battery powered and is expected to change passenger movements at airports throughout the world.

ARRK is building the vehicles on behalf of Advanced Transport Systems, who developed the control systems, and the Heathrow implementation follows a successful six month testing phase at ATS's test track in Cardiff.

Basildon Cllr Stephen Horgan, cabinet member for regeneration and green issues, says: "This is great news, and further proof that Basildon is at the forefront of manufacturing and automotive innovation. This project will revolutionise the way that passengers move around airports in the future, and I am proud that a Basildon-based business is having such a leading role on this amazing project."

"Many highly skilled Basildon people are involved in the project, and I hope that this is the kind of news that will inspire the next generation of engineers and innovators."

ARRK has been working on the project since 2004, and during the development of ULTra, ARRK's team of engineers in Basildon played the key role by advising on the vehicle's styling and designing the chassis, suspension, body and trim. All parts were individually designed.

ARRK's General Manager, Phil Griffiths commented: "Over the years ARRK has been involved with the design of many ‘traditional' two- and four-wheel vehicles, but developing ULTra posed a completely different challenge. Because it is driverless, the vehicle is quite different and requires a sophisticated onboard guidance system to work.

"We used computer modelling to simulate the movement of the vehicle, to understand its steering characteristics and designed the suspension accordingly. We also needed to test the vehicle and simulate all the potential manoeuvres it would experience at its maximum speed of 25mph, to ensure safety and reliability."

When working to full capacity, ULTra will transport up to 8,000 passengers each day delivering a faster, sustainable service between the airport's terminals and car-parks. The success of this Personal Rapid Transport System trial at Heathrow Airport has paved the way for customers across the World to now consider implementation of the system.