Posted by: glennandert | 27-October-2009

Introducing Personal Rapid Transit (PRT)

Introducing Personal Rapid Transit (PRT):

The alarm goes off.  From decades of experience, you know you’ll be ready for pickup at 6:15am. You pick up your iPhone, and start the Charlie application. Charlie, the computer voice, says “Good Morning Julie, when would you like to be picked up this morning?” You answer “615”. Charlie says “Let me check for you, it will take me about 15 seconds”. Charlie’s very punctual, so you can handle the wait. Besides, you’re looking for your new boots while you’re waiting. Charlie comes back with “I can have a pod at your house at 6:17. That will put you at work by 6:46, give or take a couple minutes. Will that suit you Julie?” And you answer “That’s great, thanks”. And Charlie replies “cool – see you in 57 minutes”.

[Notice that Charlie defaulted your departure location from your GPS location, and your destination from the fact that you make this same trip M-F at roughly this same time.]

At 6:07 while brushing your teeth, you hear Charlie’s voice on your phone saying “10 minutes till pickup”. And at 6:15 while you’re putting on your fancy boots, you hear “2 minutes till pickup”.

You walk out the front door of your apartment building. There are two pods waiting. That’s interesting, somebody else in your building is leaving at the same time. Anyway, you know which one is yours, because the exterior skin of the pod is gleaming with that cool raspberry swirl design that you created last weekend in Photoshop. [When the pod was scheduled to come pick you up, it read your default pod skin design from cloud storage and transformed itself to your design just as it came to a stop outside your apartment building, sort of like an octopus.]

When you approach the pod, the door magically opens and Charlie the computer voice greats you with “Hi Julie. Your pod awaits you”. [The pod knew who you were, because it sensed the RFID chip in your iPhone.]

As you settle in your seat, you don’t even notice that the seat is set to the exact same ergonomic position as yesterday. [The pod read the RFID chip in your phone, and read your default pod environment settings from cloud storage.]

You appreciate that the temperature is just the way you like it, and it’s playing a track from the same album you were listening to on the ride home yesterday. When you created you new pod skin last weekend, you also designed a new vanilla scent with Smell Maker (one of your favorite iPhone apps). And the scent is working great this morning – so you’re very happy.

You relax for a few minutes as the pod automatically begins the journey to work.

After your brief rest, you adjust the tint in the windows to bring in just the right amount of light, and say “Charlie, table please”. A thin table emerges from the side of the pod. You adjust it over your lap. You touch the surface of the table and login. [The entire surface of the table is a touch screen computer interface that works pretty much like your iPhone. Since all your personal files and your company files are stored in the cloud, they are all accessible right here, using the pod’s built-in mobile broadband.]

You have a meeting with the rest of the team at 7:00. So you’ve got just enough time to read over what your teammates have put on the agenda, and to double-check the slides you put together for your presentation. 

Reviewing slide 6, you realize nobody is going to “get it”. So you quickly incorporate some new statistics which you just found, thanks to Google. After a 5-minute review via Skype with Fred (in his pod, coming in from the other side of the city) and Mary (already in the office) the new version of slide 6 looks awesome.

At 6:43 Charlie announces “We’ll be at work in 5 minutes Julie”. You push the table back up, and it disappears into the pod’s wall, re-adjust the tint in the windows for optimal viewing, and you spend the next several minutes watching your arrival at work. You’re checking out the skins of the other pods. You smile as you realize that you’re new raspberry swirl is very cool! 

Your pod pulls up outside the front door of your office building, the door opens, and Charlie says “Here we are. See you tonight for the ride home Julie”. You say “See you Charlie”, pick up your purse and your iPhone and step out of the pod. You see Sandy’s deep cobalt blue pod pulling up and decide to wait for her.

[You didn’t have to present any payment tokens because your payment settings direct the pod system to simply keep track of your mileage, and automatically charge your credit card at the end of the month.]

[As you depart, the pod closes it’s doors briefly while its internal vacuum system cleans the interior. It then changes it color to a jet black in preparation for it’s next user, who is just about to arrive.]

So, let’s review this relative to the requirements. 

#1: It has to be fast

Today it took 31 minutes to get you to work, door-to-door. In the old days it took a total of 65 minutes. It took a few minutes to clear the snow off the windshield and warm up the car. The commute traffic used to be horrid – you’d rarely get over half the posted speed limit. And then it used to take 7 minutes to find a parking place.

And the great thing is that Charlie gets you there exactly as he predicts, plus or minus a minute. In the old days, if you had a morning meeting, you’d have to leave 15-30 minutes early in order to make sure you made it on time.

You typically get in 20+ minutes of productive work during your 30 minute commute. Most people do work in their pods during their commute. So your boss recognizes that, and subtracts that from the amount of time you are expected to be at your physical desk.

So, in effect, it cost you 10 minutes to get to work, compared to the old 65 minutes!

The actual drive used to take 55 minutes and Charlie does it in 30. How did Charlie do it 25 minutes faster? The simple answer is no traffic jams and minimal waiting at intersections. All traffic is computer controlled by a central scheduling system. This avoids overloading the roads, which is what creates congestion. A savings of 15 minutes comes from the fact that Charlie is driving the whole way at the speed limit, instead of jammed in traffic. The other 10 minutes of savings comes from the fact that you don’t have to wait close to 3 minutes at the 4 major traffic intersections between your house and work.

#2: You travel where and when you want

No, the system doesn’t have enough capacity to get everybody to work at exactly 8am every day. However, because the scheduling system eliminates congestion, the system has more throughput than the self-drive world. Plus, the pods are very space efficient in comparison to the 4×4 3/4 ton SUV that you used to drive to work, by yourself. Taken together, Charlie gets about 5 times as many people to work at exactly 8am than the old self-drive world.

Plus, Charlie makes the logistics easy. Suppose you have an important meeting at your customer’s site at 2:00 pm. You simply let Charlie know that you have to be there by 1:57. The latest he can get you there might be 1:52. So that’s 5 minutes less than perfect. But , he’ll tell you exactly when he’ll pick you up, and be accurate within a minute at both ends. In the old self-drive world, to ensure you didn’t get nailed by traffic and parking, you’d have to leave at least 15 earlier than this. And, you’ve got your iPhone with you. So during that extra 5 minutes before the customer meeting you can catch up on some of that industry news you need to read anyway.

A pod can pick you up anywhere and take you anywhere, door-to-door. So, unlike a bus, subway or train, you can pretty much go anywhere.

Peak travel times are a bit more expensive – like air conditioner usage during peak power times. But the automatic payment system takes care of that for you, and informs you in your monthly statement how much you could save by shifting your travel times a bit.

#3: Privacy

Notice that on your morning commute into work, you had a private pod. That suites you just fine during your commute – you like getting some work done, and getting a jump on the day.

During that 2:00pm trip to the customer site, two of your colleagues came along. Charlie brought a pod that fit the 3 of you, so you could talk about strategy on your way.

No BO. No bad music. Just the conversation you want. 

#4: Comfort

 The pod is always immaculate when it arrives, and everything is adjusted just how you like it from seat ergonomics, temperature, lighting and  music, to even the interior smell and the pod’s skin design. If you’d like a rest before you arrive home after a hard day’s work, the seat reclines into an shape perfect for a nice 20 minute power nap.

#5: Safety 

The old self-drive system killed and maimed an astonishing number of people every year. But pods are driven automatically. They don’t crash. Alright, nothing’s perfect. There might be the occasional crash. The old self-drive system would kill at least 50,000 people every year in California. The automatic pods do suffer a ‘crash’ every now and then. But it’s only about 5 per year in California. And the self-drive system has a tendency to kill people. Because of all the safety features in the pod system, pod crashes rarely result in death or serious injury. 

The old self-drive system was so deadly that people actually passed laws to force people to wear seat belts. The pod system is so safe they don’t even have seat belts.

#6: Fun

Going to visit the relatives on Saturday? Mom and pop can go in one pod. Mom uses her desktop touch screen to admire the latest pair of sexy boots from her favorite shoe designer, while pop has a snooze. The two munchkins are in another pod playing the latest double action adventure game with all the explosions at full volume. Oh, and the kids can load up the pod’s skin from their latest cool design that they just purchased on iTunes, play their favorite music (that drives you crazy), etc. The inter-pod communication system allows you to monitor what’s going on in their pod, including the internet sites they are accessing.


Charlie meets all the requirements, and more. In the posts that follow, we’ll be exploring various aspect of the system, including how to build it, pay for it, and gain adoption.



  1. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. Henry David Thoreau …

    Great visualization!!

    Your images are awesome. With Cabintaxi, a fully developed PRT system that can work in all weather condition, 90% of what you project is already accomplished – the foundation is already there. Adding the “ipod” effects, and a little urban spatial reality would be fun to do.

  2. A very visionary and imaginative article! Much of what you describe will probably be feasible and some already is. Personal rapid transit is commonly taken to mean small vehicles confined to guideways. These are much easier to automate than vehicles on the road and are already in production. In the future they will probably be able to venture off the guideways and provide the kind of door-to-door service you describe.

    Learn more about PRT at

  3. You did a very good job in explaining the basic concept of PRT.

    Hopefully you can do the same in explaining the commercial viability.

  4. It will fail unless we can own our own pods – and there is no reason that we cannot. Car ownership is a huge engine of economies and of egos..

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