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Lyft Trades in the Pink Mustache for Something Just as Funky

November 15, 2016, 8:00 AM UTC
Courtesy of Lyft

Lyft is trading its signature mustache for something equally funky: colorful LED lights.

On Tuesday, the ride-hailing company unveiled a new emblem for its drivers to sport in the front of their cars, and unlike its previous two symbols, it does not feature a mustache at all. The new device is pill-shaped and displays colored lights and the company’s name. On the back, it can display signs and words, such as a greeting for the passenger.

Lyft Co-Founder and President John Zimmer first hinted at the end of the pink mustache last month at a conference in Laguna Beach, Calif. hosted by the Wall Street Journal.

Lyft’s goal with the new device, named Amp, is to make it easier for passengers and drivers to find each other, especially in busy areas packed with people trying to find their rides, such as by a string of bars at the end of a weekend night. When passengers are matched with drivers, they will each be notified of the color of their driver’s Amp (there are currently six) so they can look for them. Additionally, the passengers’ apps will show the same color on their smartphone screens so they can wave it in the air to make it easier for the driver to spot them.

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And the Amp isn’t just a display with 160 LED lights, according to the company. It’s a way for passengers and drivers to interact. Besides being able to display greetings on the back of the device, it could be helpful for hearing-impaired drivers to communicate with passengers.

Drivers can charge their Amp device via a USB post on the back of it. Fully charged, Lyft says the device can work for eight hours.

But the new device might also offer Lyft a glimpse into a future with self-driving cars. The ride-sharing company, like many others, is very bullish on autonomous driving. In September, Zimmer made a bold prediction that by 2025, all Lyft rides in major U.S. cities will be completed by self-driving cars.

As it prepares for a world where passengers will interact with robot vehicles, Lyft’s Amp could be a first step in studying this type of interaction. Is a colorful display of lights enough for a passenger to identify the right car? Does a personalized message inside really make the passenger feel welcome? Could Lyft’s dispatch service or customer support communicate with a passenger via such a device? Lyft’s Amp could be a first attempt at answering these questions.

And while Lyft is leaving much of the self-driving car technology development to General Motors, which also invested $5oo million into the ride-hailing company in January, Lyft will still be the entity its customers (and maybe even GM’s) interact with when taking a ride.

“This is absolutely an extensible solution in a world where there’s no driver in the car,” Lyft vice president of product Tali Rapaport said during a presentation of the new device to the press.

The company may also include more sensors and chips in the Amp device down the line, such as GPS, said Rapaport, although she declined to share any details.

For now, it hopes that helping passengers and drivers identify each other faster will lead to greater efficiency for drivers and riders. In particular, the company will look for decreases—even if just by seconds—of the amount of time it takes for passenger to hop into their ride, according to Rapaport.

To go along with its new emblem, Lyft has also developed a series of new television commercials to highlight its service. In all four spots, Lyft not-so-subtly takes aim at Uber, its main competitor. Each commercial shows three men sitting around a dark-walled conference room—at “Ride Corp.”—and spying on their competitor’s drivers and riders, who all seem so happy. Interestingly, in one scenario, the Ride Corp. men point out that Lyft provides third-party background checks, among other things, which Uber also does, though the commercial doesn’t mention this.

Lyft’s new campaign is also reminiscent of Uber’s “Shave the ‘Stache” ads in 2013, though the latter’s approach was obviously a more direct attack on its opponent.

Lyft declines to share how much it’s spending on the the new ads, but they’ll be airing across cable TV and major networks through the end of the year. The company debuted its first TV commercial in April and says it’s been well received.

As for its new Amp devices, the company says we should expect to start seeing them appear in Lyft cars starting in mid-December. All drivers are eligible, unlike its previous “Glowstache,” which required drivers to complete a certain amount of rides.

According to Rapaport, new drivers will receive one as soon as they complete certain on-boarding requirements, while existing drivers will get one as soon as they submit and confirm an address to which Lyft can ship the device.

An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated the amount of money GM invested in Lyft. The story has been updated.