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Here’s another way Lyft is trying to make itself different from Uber

Scaling a driver and rider experience is pretty hard when your drivers are independent contractors.

Lyft car interior
Lyft’s new device, Amp

When Lyft launched in San Francisco in 2012, it pitched itself as the friendly ride-hail service. It was the service you called when you wanted to have a conversation or when you wanted to fist-bump your driver.

The problem: Lyft depended on a pool of independent contractors, and you can’t tell independent contractors what to do. Scaling that experience — which the company felt was its competitive edge over Uber — outside of San Francisco is difficult.

So Lyft set out to make its experience tangible. First there was the glowstache — the small portable successor to the fuzzy pink mustache the company became known for. Today, the company is announcing that it will begin rolling out a new device called Amp that will be connected to a driver’s Lyft app.

The device, which is pill-shaped and is meant to sit on a dashboard, emits different colors so that riders can more easily identify their drivers. Riders will be told what color Amp to look for and will also be able to flash that color from their app to flag their driver down.

Tali Rapaport, Lyft’s VP of Product, likened it to the on-call signs that sit atop traditional taxis.

“Every second we shave off the experience and the time it takes for the passenger and driver to connect — every second is a win,” Rapaport told reporters during a press meeting. “It’s a win for a driver because [they can] make money faster [because it] shaves a second off their time getting to their destination.”

The company is building the software that connects to the Lyft driver app in-house, but the hardware is being built using a third-party contractor, according to Rapaport.

Riders will also be greeted with messages on the back of the device that say things like “Hi, [name of passenger], Happy New Year.”

It’s a small step toward making the Lyft experience an actual physical experience without forcing drivers to do something (and thus adding fuel to the argument that Lyft drivers are actually employees).

It also sets the foundation for how Lyft’s self-driving cars will communicate with riders.

“This is absolutely an extensible solution in a world where there isn’t a driver in the car,” Rapaport said.

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