If you’ve ever used a ride-sharing app to hail a car at night, or on a busy street, you know that finding your driver can be one of trickiest parts of the whole experience. Drivers, too, know how hard it can be to spot passengers. “A seamless pick-up is one of the toughest things,” says Ethan Eyler, head of rider experience at Lyft.
For years, Lyft confronted the pick-up problem with pink facial hair. In the beginning, Lyft drivers mounted big, furry mustaches to the fronts of their cars. Then came the Glowstache—a smaller, glowing, dash-mounted version of the original. Both solutions helped users identify their rides from a distance, but neither helped them discern one Lyft from another—or help drivers pick out passengers. So starting today, Lyft is ditching mustaches altogether, in favor of a device it calls the Amp. It’s a two-way beacon the company claims will help riders and drivers find each other faster and more easily than ever.
Using the Amp is as simple as matching colors. Like the Glowstache, it’s designed to sit on a driver’s dash and illuminate during pick-up. This signals to riders that their car has arrived. “We liked the notion of being able to recognize your vehicle from 50 to 100 feet away,” says Robert Brunner, founder of Ammunition, the design firm behind the Amp as well as the Glowstache.
But unlike the lights in the Glowstache, the LEDs in the Amp can display a range of colors. If your driver’s Amp is glowing green, your app will let you know—then give you the option to turn your phone’s screen a matching hue, which you can use to flag down your driver. If you’re somewhere where more than one Lyft is lingering, Lyft will assign each car a different color to make the situation less confusing.
Only now, instead of a mustache, you’ll be looking for the winding letters of Lyft’s lettermark, which has become the company’s de-facto logo as it enters international markets less familiar with the stache. “We wanted to make the Lyft logo more front and center just for clarity of brand and presence,” Eyler says. The logo is backlit backlit by a series of 20 diffused LEDs that fill the pill-shaped screen. Ammunition experimented with different form factors, including a cylinder shape that could attach to the windshield, but they quickly found that drivers were used to the Glowstache sitting on the dashboard, and they liked being able grab the Amp quickly to mount and unmount between driving shifts. “We realized we already really own that center space in the car,” says Christopher Kuh, vice president of industrial design at Ammunition.
For the past year, Uber has been experimenting with a similar color-matching system. The company calls the service Spot, and it relies on color-coded rods that attach to the insides of drivers’ windshields. Lyft’s approach feels, in true Lyft fashion, less serious—but it’s also more functional. Drivers can customize the Amp’s inward-facing side to, say, greet their passengers by name, or celebrate a recent sporting victory. (Lyft says it has no plans to use this space to display ads.) “We wanted it to feel like the cool, irreverent counterpoint in the crowd sharing economy,” Brunner says.
In whatever form their in-car displays take, Lyft and Uber are, rightfully, acknowledging that they have a real experience problem to solve for. As ride-sharing becomes more common, it’s going to take more than a license plate number and a tiny headshot to help you find your ride in a sea of Priuses.