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LISNR: The Technology That Could Make Your Trips Safer

By: // Updated: August 14, 2020

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In recent years, rideshare driver safety has been a trending topic around the world. But while Uber and Lyft are adding features like emergency buttons and route-sharing to make your trips safer, rider authentication at the pick-up is still largely a manual process. LISNR is the rising technology company that aims to make everything from ridesharing to payments more secure.

The standard pick-up process across rideshare apps simply requires drivers to ask for a rider’s name before they hop in the car. While riders are able to verify drivers based on other details like their car models, vehicle colors, license plate numbers, and profile pictures, drivers are often left with little information about their riders to confirm who they are.

With LISNR, you can unmistakably welcome the right person into your car in a matter of seconds. We’ll explain exactly how the technology works and how it can benefit you in this article.


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What Is LISNR?

LISNR is a Cincinnati- and Oakland-based startup that uses ultrasonic data transmission for authentication. Instead of requiring merchants to scan QR codes or customers to place their phones next to NFC-enabled devices, LISNR sends data over sound for more seamless mobile payments and identity verification.

LISNR’s technology has a large number of use cases. Retailers can use it at the point-of-sale as part of their checkout process. Venues can use it for ticketing. Food delivery platforms can use it to deliver to the right customers. As we mentioned already, rideshare companies can use LISNR to greatly increase safety on its platforms.

Even Jaguar Land Rover is implementing the LISNR to allow its car owners to unlock their vehicles with just their smartphones in hand.

It’s no wonder why the startup has generated so much interest since co-founders Josh Glick, Chris Ostoich, Chris Ridenour, Nikki Ridenour, and Rodney Williams launched the company in 2012. Due to its massive potential, LISNR is now backed by nearly $30 million in funding. This comes from some of the largest corporations and investors in the United States, including Visa and Intel Capital.

How LISNR Works

Officially, LISNR calls itself an “ultrasonic proximity platform.” But what does this jargon actually mean? And how does the technology work?

In the context of ridesharing, LISNR would activate a “Smart Tone” on your rider’s device once they locate your vehicle and are within a set proximity to your smartphone. This tone — which, like a barcode, is unique to the users — will transmit the data your app needs to know that the right person has arrived. When your app gets the message it’s looking for, only then would the trip unlock.

If the wrong rider comes up to your car, their Smart Tone would not be able to unlock the current trip on your mobile app.

No need to worry about an embarrassing tone blasting from your phone’s speakers. This tone is ultrasonic, which means the vast majority of people won’t be able to hear it. If you’re one of the rare people who do, it’ll just sound like a bit of white noise.

LISNR Benefits for Rideshare Drivers

LISNR’s audio technology offers a safer, speedier approach to verification than the solutions that rideshare companies already have in place.

For example, Lyft currently enhances safety by using Lyft amps, which are the light-up signs located on some drivers’ dashboards. While the Lyft amps help riders verify their drivers by displaying a unique assigned color, drivers still only have their riders’ names to go off of. LISNR creates the same level of safety for both riders and drivers.

Since its launch of a PIN code verification feature in early 2020, Uber has offered far greater safety for both sides. This feature only allows a trip to start once drivers type a matching PIN code into their app. Still, this slows down the pick-up process by requiring riders to read their codes aloud and drivers to manually enter it in.

In this scenario, LISNR offers a much more efficient process that makes contactless authentication far easier and reduces human error.

This is particularly beneficial for event and airport pick-ups, when a large volume of drivers are often lined up and waiting for their respective passengers. You and the correct rider can start toward your drop-off location in no time as your trip quickly unlocks. Ultimately, this could lead to a better customer experience that could offer more tips than before.

If used for rideshare payments, LISNR could also potentially decrease risk of chargebacks and fraud, ensuring that you’re always paid what you’re owed.

Frequently Asked Questions

LISNR is a unique solution that may one day transform the ridesharing process and make it more secure. While only time will tell its true impact, the frequently asked questions below can help you learn more about LISNR as it stands today:

1. Does Uber or Lyft have plans to implement LISNR technology?

Neither rideshare company has announced any plans to work with LISNR to develop new security features. Though Uber has announced that it may soon use ultrasound waves for rider and driver verification, they have not confirmed if they will be using LISNR’s technology, working with another brand, or creating their own from scratch.

2. Are any major food delivery apps currently using LISNR?

Unfortunately, LISNR has not yet partnered with any major food delivery services like Uber Eats, DoorDash, or Grubhub, though doing so does appear to be a future goal. Food delivery is one of the industries that LISNR is aiming to reach, and the technology can actually cut costs while boosting safety.

3. Within what range does my rider have to be in for their Smart Tone to reach my phone?

Companies that implement LISNR can limit a range to as little as a few centimeters or increase it to a handful of meters away. LISNR recommends a range of six feet for rideshare usage. This limited range ensures that riders don’t accidentally activate a trip while getting into the wrong car. At the same time, it’s close enough that your smartphones can still communicate when the rider is directly outside of the car.

4. Are there other data-over-sound technologies like LISNR?

Yes. Data-over-sound technology isn’t brand new. Companies like CopSonic are competing with LISNR in the ultrasonic authentication space. However, LISNR’s technology has been widely recognized as the most advanced option in the market, and the best replacement for popular QR code and NFC technology. LISNR is also one of the few companies that are specifically looking to enter the rideshare space.

5. Can I use LISNR for authentication even if my rideshare company doesn’t partner with them?

Unfortunately, there is no way to use LISNR unless the rideshare brand you drive for chooses to implement it first. This is because your rider will need a Smart Tone to transmit to your phone for verification to work. Even if your phone is set up to listen for and translate this ultrasonic audio, you wouldn’t otherwise have sounds to receive.

6. Are the Smart Tones transmitted by LISNR safe for humans and animals?

Yes, even for the select humans and animals (which may include dogs, cats, cows, and horses) that can hear the high-frequency audio, Smart Tones should not be irritating in any way. LISNR equates the noise to the sound of AC kicking on, for species that can hear the noise more clearly. LISNR actually uses a lower frequency range than dog whistles, so the tech is highly unlikely to cause any damage across species, if damage is even possible.

Look Toward the Future of Ridesharing

LISNR can be used in a wide variety of industries and because of this, it could soon impact your experience as a rideshare driver and in the gig economy as a whole. The company’s highly advanced ultrasonic data transmission can easily make your rides more secure, so you always know you have the right person entering your car at the pick-up point. While there may be a lot of room for human error in the pick-up process today, LISNR may soon create a safer, faster, and more seamless experience for drivers like you.

Until LISNR becomes more widely implemented, the best way to stay safe is to take some extra levels of precaution as you’re accepting trips and picking up passengers. Get our tips for keeping your rideshare experience great by reading our Uber safety guide.

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