The key advantage of the POD is the flexibility if offers users. The same approach has been taken to the technology underlying the vehicles.
As well as being suitable for use with or without guideways, they offer a flexible platform which can accommodate navigation and sensing technology from a variety of suppliers, such as Oxbotica and Fusion Processing. This modular approach means that a solution can be precisely tailored to each user's requirements.
If a user already has a transport infrastructure in place, or intends to install a dedicated infrastructure (e.g. at an airport where the volume of traffic justifies a separate roadway for the vehicles), Westfield POD can use guideway sensors along the route to control the pods. This means the vehicles are lower cost, as they do not need their own navigation system, but the infrastructure cost is higher.
For many applications, such as from a train station to a hotel, it is more cost-effective to use the vehicles on existing roads or paths where the pods need to safely interact with other road users. In this case, the vehicles "learn" their environment before going into public use. The learning process is rigorously controlled by Westfield POD:
The vehicles are under the manual control of an operator, who guides the vehicle along a given route. The vehicle sensors build a highly sophisticated 3D map of that route, noting every feature - e.g. lamp-posts, kerbs, white lines in the road.
The vehicle then goes along the route autonomously at very low speed (under 5 km/h). At each road marking or piece of street furniture it encounters, it stops briefly to compare what is sees to what its map says it ought to see. When it is confident that the two images match up, it moves to the next item. At this stage a controller is in the vehicle in case of any problems.
It repeats the route numerous times at progressively higher speed, until it is sure that everything its encounters is exactly as its map predicted. It repeats this in different weather conditions (sunlight, cloud, rain, night-time etc.) Again, a controller is in the vehicle.
Once the vehicle is confident about the route, Westfield POD introduces its own staff to the route as pedestrians and cyclists to ensure that the vehicle correctly identifies other road users in that particular environment (e.g. there are no reflections on the route that could stop the sensors identifying another road user).