Lyft has outgrown its pink mustache. Today, the ride-hail company says it will retire the oversized facial hair logo that has defined the company’s image since 2012 and replace it with a brightly colored, Bluetooth-enabled, LED gadget called the Amp. The device, which attaches magnetically to the dashboard, is designed to prevent those awkward car mix-ups with passengers. But moreover it aims to send the message that Lyft rides are more fun than your average Uber trip. Think of it as the iconic taxi light for the ride-sharing generation.
The Amp connects over Bluetooth to the driver’s app, which Lyft says allows it to create “a new line of communication” between drivers and passengers. For example, when you leave the club at 2AM and aren’t sure which Honda CR-V is your Lyft ride, the Amp will display a specific color to help you get in the right car. To go a step further, you can tap a button in the app to display the same color on your smartphone and make it easier for your driver to find you as well.
“It basically cues you to the driver, the driver back to you, so everyone’s looking for the same color,” said Ethan Eyler, the head of Lyft’s ride experience division. The fuzzy pink mustache was based on Eyler’s designs for his CarStache company, which was acquired by Lyft right after changing its name from Zimride. The fuzzy mustache attached to the grille of the car eventually became the Glowstache, a glowing pink emblem to be placed inside the windshield. And the Amp, which has been in the works for over a year now, is the next successor.
The Amp has two displays: a 24-LED screen with the Lyft logo on top that faces out the windshield, and a 120-LED screen on the back, facing the driver and the passenger. To start out with, the street-facing display will show one of five colors, but the company says it will eventually be able to feature a broader range of colors and patterns. The back of the Amp can display personalized messages to the riders, like “Hello [insert name]” or “Go [insert sports team name].” Yes that’s right, the Amp will know your name because your driver knows your name and his or her phone is connected to the device. It has an eight-hour battery life, which Eyler says should cover a typical driver shift.
“Drivers are running a business, they want to make money,” Eyler said. “So we knew we had to make a device that would make doing their job easier. We know that that last 50 feet, when you’re trying to find the passenger is one of those pain points.”
It’s unclear how specifically the Amp will help Lyft transition to a future five years away where, as the company’s president John Zimmer predicts, a “majority” of rides will take place in self-driving cars. Eyler said the Amp is not designed for that specifically, but he still sees the device as a “nice stepping stone as we move into the autonomous world.”
“In a driverless car, it’s really going to be important to find your car,” he said. “So we see color as a very powerful symbol for that.”
But the Amp won’t just be about connecting drivers and riders, or even swapping a tired corporate logo with some new, brightly colored, digital one. Lyft envisions the Amp being a device that riders can also manipulate and control, whether to play a game, get a password for a secret concert, or get a promo code for some marketing opportunity.
“You can even play Pong or send a message to another person in a ride you might know or maybe leave a message for somebody getting in the next ride,” said Jesse McMillan, Lyft’s creative director. “Not yet, but we’ve built it as an infrastructure that you can continue to connect all those parts.”
Lyft drivers will need to have completed a certain number of trips before they are eligible to receive the Amp. Lyft says it will start rolling out the Amp to drivers in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in time for New Year’s Eve. Drivers in other markets across the country will start getting them in early next year. Eyler says it expects most, if not all, Lyft drivers to have received them by the second quarter of 2017.
Lyft isn’t the first ride-hailing company to experience difficulty in connecting riders to the right driver. Late last year, Uber began rolling out its own color-coded technology called SPOT, aimed at helping drivers find riders and vice versa. The company is providing the devices, which appear to be long, thin LED lights, to drivers to attach to the inside of their windshield. The company is just testing Spot in Seattle, and has yet to announce whether it intends to test it out in other markets.
The fierce competition between Uber and Lyft is front-and-center in Lyft’s new advertising campaign, in which a trio of clueless corporate bros working for a company called “Ride Corp” (a thinly disguised Uber) monitor Lyft rides and attempt to copy their success. The ads are dropping at a time when Uber streamlined its app in its most significant overhaul in four years.
The battle between the two companies have put further pressure on Lyft, a distant second in the ride-hail market in the US. The company was said to be seeking a $9 billion buyout, but was unable to find a buyer who could meet that figure.