Uber Launches New Tools to Make Passenger Pick Ups Easier

Now you can use your phone as a beacon to signal a driver.

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As it tackles big issues like restarting its self-driving car tech program and offering electric scooter rentals, Uber is still making tweaks and changes to its app. The ride-hailing company is rolling out a series of new features meant to make it easier for drivers to find their passengers.

Uber wants to cut down on confusion over where to pick up passengers, which the company says often leads to cancelled rides and stressed-out drivers. Previously, drivers were given a pickup location and contact information for the rider, but no help in picking that person out from a crowd on bustling city streets.

The first tool meant to remedy that problem is called Spotlight, and it does exactly what you think. It lights up a user's phone in a specific color, turning the phone into a signal flare. The driver gets a message telling them what color to look for. 

Spotlight is similar in concept to the Beacon device Uber introduced in 2016. The Beacon is an illuminated plastic Uber logo drivers can place in their windows. Riders can use the Uber app to set the Beacon's color using Bluetooth, so they know what to look for. In cities where it's available, the Beacon will take precedence over Spotlight, according to The Verge.

Riders can now send messages to drivers with identifying details such as "I'm wearing a red jacket," or pre-written messages like "I'll be right there." To limit distraction, messages are read aloud to drivers, who can respond with a single tap, according to Uber.

Finally, for the first time Uber is guaranteeing that scheduled pickups will be on time. If the driver is late, the customer gets a credit toward their next ride.

These changes to the Uber app follow a recent change in the company's safety policies. Uber recently began monitoring all drivers for criminal charges continuously, according to Axios. The company previously conducted periodic background checks only, but will now be notified if a driver is newly charged with a criminal offense. The change is part of an ongoing effort to address widespread criticism of the company's background-check policies.