Transportation planners have long dreamed of an age of driverless taxis that could help alleviate traffic in congested areas and that vision of driverless urban areas could soon become reality. Under the auspices of the European Union's "Citymobil" project, which was launched on August 28, companies and research institutes representing 10 countries have come together to develop small automatic transportation systems. Currently, three model projects are planned with funding of about €40 million.
The first is being built at London's Heathrow Airport where, 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. In Rome, driverless "cyber cars" will pick up visitors at a parking lot or the nearby train station and take them to a new exhibition center. And in the Spanish city of Castellón, a new driverless bus will be tested that can travel through the city center on a specially designated lane. Automation has long existed on some subway trains, monorails and airport transport vehicles, but these would count among the first major projects of smaller "peoplemover" systems.