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Masdar City's Driverless PRT System Surpasses 2 Million Passengers

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【Summary】Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Masdar City PRT network is its superbly clean safety record. To date, no accidents or collisions have occurred during operation, resulting in a 99.6 vehicle reliability rate.

Michael Cheng    Dec 06, 2016 6:34 AM PT

The Middle East is home to a hidden, $22 billion smart oasis: Masdar City. Located between Abu Dhabi International Airport and the suburbs of Emirati, the satellite city is equipped with cutting edge technologies, such as solar thermal cooling plants and next-generation desalination treatment facilities, that are considered to be experimental in other parts of the world.  

The smart city is also home to the Masdar City Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system, a local autonomous transportation network powered by pod-like cars. The PRT has been operating in the area for over six years. During this period, the driverless vessels have traveled over 553,000 miles and carried over two million passengers. The pods travel on marked paths to get to their destination.

"This achievement stands as a true testament to our culture of innovation," said Yousef Baselaib, Masdar's executive director of sustainable real estate. "The popularity of the PRT demonstrates how functional sustainable urban transport development is paving the way for cities of the future."

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Driverless Milestones

Masdar's revolutionary PRT system is a true pioneer of autonomous driving. It has been around far longer than most automakers that entered the nascent sector in the past few years. The driverless network is one of the only ways to get around the city. Initially, local officials banned the use of private vehicles to encourage residents to utilize public and personal transit options. This allowed Masdar, which is located in the middle of the desert, to stay cool while exposed to blisteringly hot weather.

In the past two years, the PRT system experienced a 75 percent increase in passengers relying on the popular urban routes. Between morning and afternoon peak periods, the pods reach close to 90 percent occupancy rates. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Masdar City PRT network is its superbly clean safety record. To date, no accidents or collisions have occurred during operation, resulting in a 99.6 vehicle reliability rate.

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Maps and Magnets

As mentioned earlier, the autonomous vessels travel on clearly marked paths that look like tire marks from years of operation. It also uses embedded magnets under the tracks for advanced positioning and onboard sensors to detect nearby obstacles. Since the pods are battery powered, C02 emissions are greatly reduced to the equivalent of 53 cars per year. The vessels recharge their cells at loading stations, in between trips.

The pods can reach top speeds of 40 kph and 25 kph (while driving on curved paths). Inside the vessels, passengers are treated to spacious benches and ample leg room. A large panel provides information about the transit route. In case of emergency, individuals can communicate with a representative using an intercom. Like the technology powering the pods, the doors are also equipped with automatic sensors.

"At Masdar City we have both daily passengers and first-time users, from 6am until midnight, with the requirement to constantly provide a reliable and high service level under difficult environmental conditions. As a result we have gained significant knowledge to support autonomous vehicle development," said the chief executive of the PRT manufacturer 2getthere, Carel van Helsdingen.

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