We Need This Uber Feature, ASAP

Photo: Courtesy Uber.
Say you're leaving a crowded concert or club and successfully nab an Uber that's only five minutes away — but then can't find your car, because dozens of other black sedans are flocking to the exact same area. To help solve this problem, Uber is experimenting with a new feature that seems straight out of elementary school: color-coded rides.

Uber riders in perennially rainy Seattle — a locale that happens to host some of the worst traffic in the nation — can try out a pilot program, through which they can match their arriving Uber to their color of choice in the app. Drivers will have an LED that glows through their windshields, matching the user-selected color. Meanwhile, the waiting rider can press and hold the color in the app, illuminating the screen to help the driver identify who they’re picking up. Uber is calling this innovation "SPOT" technology.

The initiative just launched, so not all Uber vehicles in Seattle are SPOT-enabled — right now it’s limited to a small subset of UberX and Black Cars. According to Uber spokesperson Kate Downen, the use of SPOT-enabled Ubers will mostly be useful during nighttime, when it's especially hard to identify your arriving car.

Many Uber drivers in Seattle actually haven't even heard of SPOT yet, as I found last night when I hailed a few Ubers around the city to run errands and grab dinner. After three rides — all after sunset — not one driver was outfitted with the LED light or even knew about the program. The pool of drivers testing the experiment definitely seems to be very small.

Downen explains that SPOT is a test, and only a test. Uber chose Seattle as its lab for this experiment because it's "a fantastic tech city" and "a breeding ground of innovation," plus the company has been there for four years. Seattle is also home to Uber’s Engineering Center, which opened earlier this year.

If the program winds up improving the experience of riders and drivers, Uber will likely roll it out in other markets, as it has with projects like UberEats. Hopefully this ends up working out, because we've all experienced the embarrassment of hopping into an Uber that wasn’t an Uber at all.

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