Spotlight on the Uber Kiosk

By Gabrielle Whelan

Whipsaw recently partnered with Uber to conceptualize a public kiosk. Uber Kiosks are physical touchpoints that streamline the on-boarding process for new drivers while also providing access to Uber’s other services (Jump, Freight, Eats, etc…) for both drivers and riders. Think of them as a one-stop Uber shop.

For Uber drivers, the application process to become a driver previously required filling out a bunch of forms, taking numerous photos, emailing customer service reps, and sitting through lengthy orientation meetings. The Kiosk virtually simplifies this. That is, a virtual Kiosk assistant guides drivers through the on-boarding process and organizes everything into one portal. It also makes rideshares safer by requiring more aggressive background checks for driver verification. Once on the road, drivers can simply swing by their nearest Kiosk to support their workday needs. 

I recently sat down with Uber’s Innovation Team and Whipsaw’s Kiosk design leads to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Kiosk’s journey from concept to market.

Spotlight Design

The Uber Kiosk

Whipsaw Design Team

Cheng Fu Hsieh, Industrial Designer
Dan Harden, Strategist, Designer

Uber Innovation Team

Anurag Agarwalla, Innovation Lead
Dalton Viggers, Innovation Design Lead
Kailash Hiremath, Hardware Lead

5 Questions with Whipsaw and Uber on the Uber Kiosk

What first sparked the idea for the Kiosk?

Agarwalla (Uber): Twelve years ago, Kailash was running hardware at Highfive and brought on Dan and the Whipsaw team to do the design work. As we were developing our video conferencing concept, we liked the idea of pressing one button to have the callee instantly show up on your TV.  At Uber we had a similar idea for helping people become Uber drivers—with the press of a button. We wanted that moment when someone says to themselves “Maybe I should be an Uber driver” to be more special and physically substantial than your smartphone.

Harden (Whipsaw):
 The idea of the Uber Kiosk initially seemed odd to me. Why would anyone need a kiosk if you’ve got everything you need right there in the palm of your hand? I was thinking like a rider, not a driver. I had no idea how Uber drivers become drivers. When I found out what a headache it is to go through the written application, background screening, and testing to become a driver, I thought there must be a better way. We needed a public kiosk!

Hiremath (Uber):
 So then the question became, could we virtualize the driver application and onboarding experience at places where people congregate, like malls and airports. We wanted to give potential Uber drivers an easy sign-up experience that was just like having a real person helping you on site.

Early Kiosk Concepts

Uber has described the Kiosk as having an “Arcade-like feel.” Can you elaborate on what went into the thinking behind this design?

Harden: The Uber Kiosk needed to attract attention, especially since the environments where they are placed, like malls, have lots of background noise and visual distractions—kind of like an arcade. We wanted the Kiosk to be bold, bright and inviting while still feeling private when in use, so we recessed and angled the display like an ATM.

Hsieh (Whipsaw): The idea began as two modules—a base pedestal and a main interaction module that would stack on the pedestal. Used alone, it could be mounted to a wall or sit on a table. This allowed Uber to deploy it as both a freestanding unit in a mall or as a row of multiple wall-mounted units at one of their Greenlight stations.

Agarwalla: We considered the range of our driver’s needs while conceptualizing this design. We ultimately settled on a 42-inch screen to accommodate our elderly drivers’ needs, and we also decided to incorporate a virtual assistant to mimic their preferred in-person experience as much as possible.

We wanted the Kiosk to be bold, bright and inviting while still feeling private when in use.

– Dan Harden

How has Kiosk specifically changed the driver’s user experience?

Viggers (Uber):
Up until 2017, when we first began collaborating with Whipsaw on the Kiosk, no one was innovating for the drivers. We needed to get them onboarded faster and think about their experience.

Hiremath: We thought about how English is a second language for many of our drivers, so they could find the smartphone extremely challenging and would need to commute 45 minutes for in-person support for every tiny problem they encountered. That was taking time away in which they could be earning money, so it was a no-brainer to virtualize the onboarding assistant, put them in Kiosks, and put those Kiosks in the most convenient locations for potential drivers to access.

Hsieh: The driver onboarding experience is now vastly improved because the Kiosk offers on-the-spot driver enrollment. Every design element is intended to contribute to this quick and easy process. For example, we angled the display at seven degrees so the user can comfortably see their content. This specific angle also allows the iPad (used to enter personal information) to remain below the main display so it can’t be seen by others.

Can you elaborate on the various use cases for the Kiosk?

Agarwalla: The thing that stitched all our discussions together was the realization that the Kiosk platform could be used not only for new driver enrollment, but also by Uber’s other verticals, such as Uber Eats. It could also be used to order a ride without your phone. The platform afforded us the ability to solve multiple use cases in a variety of critical locations. Because of this flexibility, in addition to malls, the Kiosk is now also in use at hospitals, airport terminals, hotel lobbies, and senior living centers.

Hiremath: At a high level, being able to book a ride or order food from a physical touchpoint is something we’re looking at as a way to add convenience to mobility for a variety of use cases. We put Kiosks in airports, for example, because it’s often difficult to request a rideshare when you get off your flight due to wifi issues or a dead battery. Our foray into those spaces was our very first step in allowing riders to interact easily with these physical touchpoints.

This was our very first step in allowing riders to interact easily with our physical touchpoints.

– Kailash Hiremath

How do you think the Kiosk factors into the future of mobility?

Agarwalla: We believe that getting around town in the future will feel like bouncing between physical and digital experiences in a frictionless way. The Kiosk’s platform is one form factor that is exposing this style of mobility to people for the first time. It’s also important to remember that our mobile Uber app is just an entry point for us. You go to the valet stand or a bus stop, for example, and then you get moving. Those are both examples of waypoints, and we think waypoints in future cities should be much smarter and more advanced.

Hiremath: In the future, we believe incorporating physical touchpoints like the Kiosk around the world will transmute into a more multifaceted experience for all Uber users.

Harden: Mobility has changed so much in the last 10 years. We didn’t even call transportation, “mobility”, 10 years ago. Ridesharing wasn’t even a thing yet. Today, there’s a lot of experimenting with how to move people around our planet in the most efficient and safest way possible, and this is one of those experiments. The Kiosk isn’t directly about mobility. It’s a mobility enabler, and the future of mobility will no doubt need more of these kinds of support systems.