Case Studies

Rideshare in-car Device

PCH worked with the world leading rideshare company to develop their in-car rideshare system that improved location services and user experience.

Engineering and Development
Design Partner
8 months

The challenge

PCH was tasked by our Partner to engineer their second-generation dash-mounted beacon device for cars – a device that affixes to the car windscreen and changes color to help the rider identify their car. Our main objectives were to enhance the design and feature set of their original beacon, to launch in market within 12-15 months, and to meet an aggressive cost target.

The new device would greatly improve the lighting effects over the original product, moving from a single illuminated disc to three distinct features: a bright, 3-dimensional Uframe, an illuminated text logo, and a dense, inward-facing LED matrix for text display. It would also integrate new sensors to detect location, direction, altitude, and ambient light, while successfully collecting and streaming data from the device to a user’s phone and our Partner’s cloud.

PCH was brought in at the concept phase to support and work collaboratively with their industrial design partner, Whipsaw. This enabled PCH to make early component and engineering recommendations to align with our Partner’s performance and business goals while preserving Whipsaw’s industrial design intent.

PCH solution

PCH worked closely with both teams to refine the product’s feature set. Our Partner required the new device to be significantly brighter than the original beacon and allow for more complex animations while keeping the light smooth and uniform. The project was complex not only because of the number of partners involved and the lighting requirements, but also because of the number of components, the size of the device, and thermal risk. PCH worked with multiple partners, from lighting and thermal experts, to various testing facilities and vendors to develop the device which consisted of almost 30 components.

PCH began by researching, testing, and recommending key components to satisfy the specified feature set and design concept.

When architecting the solution, PCH’s first order of business was to make sure that key components would fit into the device body. The components included 302 LEDs for three different lighting features, Bluetooth and GPS antennae, a gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light sensor (ALS), barometer, and temperature sensors. Early on, PCH worked with Whipsaw to establish a realistic device thickness that would achieve the desired GPS and lighting performance while staying as close as possible to the original thickness target.

The front-facing illuminated U-frame, which required full-spectrum color and bright white illumination, also presented difficulties. PCH tested many different plastic resins and geometries to eliminate shadows in the corners of the U-frame. PCH also worked with Whipsaw to optimize the spacing of the passenger-facing LED matrix to enable two lines of text. To achieve the bright, uniform lighting of the U-frame using as few LEDs as possible and within the limited space inside the device, PCH built and tested more than 20 iterations of this feature. Ultimately, a solution was found that used only 13 LEDs, did not require additional light pipe or diffusion components, and leveraged existing PCB placement to reduce total cost and assembly complexity.

To enable anytime/anywhere device testing without firmware involvement, which can lead to production delays, PCH developed a custom web app that connected to the device. Engineers were able to independently control the color and brightness of the lighting features, download sensor data, and run animations. This made for a quicker, easier, and more flexible testing process that allowed the firmware engineers to continue focusing on production firmware development rather than testing support.

Another key issue was thermal control due to a combination of heat generated by the LEDs and the high-heat environments that the device will be exposed to, for example, a car dash in the summer months. PCH tested extensively for thermal issues and explored mitigations. After numerous simulations and in-house empirical testing, PCH engineers were able to eliminate the need for vents in the design—preserving the original design intent—while confirming that all components would still perform well in extreme conditions. As an added measure, the thermal testing data was used to calibrate an automatic shut-off when the device gets too hot.

For communication (Bluetooth), GPS reception, and data streaming, PCH reviewed and tested multiple antenna options and modules before deciding that the product would require a custom design due to its space constraints and complexity. PCH’s selection and design was driven by the need for stable communication and multiple constellations on the GNSS with the final design capable of tracking GPS, GAL and GLO. PCH’s design utilized chip antennas which allowed us the flexibility of designing a system that fit our overall design intent while also achieving maximum performance and signal integrity.

The product’s GNSS subsystem is expected to perform well in open-sky and urban canyon environmental conditions. Specifically, the satellite signals reception of the device is expected to collect satellite signals as measured by the measured CN0 of the GNSS chip at no worse than 33 dB-Hz of average CN0 from no less than 15 satellites from a combination of GPS, GLO, GAL and SBAS under open-sky conditions.

Once all features were tested, PCH built 15 prototypes, subsequently working with the manufacturers to optimize the design and helping with the creation of their test plan.

The result

PCH completed the engineering and development of the device within 8 months. This included PCH recommended changes to the initial design concept that created more space in the body for necessary components, and achieved the desired lighting brightness, clarity, and uniformity. Despite changes to the initial concept, Whipsaw’s industrial design intent was protected, and our Partner met its business goals.

PCH also worked successfully with manufacturing partners both before the transition and onsite at the manufacturing facility. This collaboration ensured a smooth and efficient transition to manufacturing, alignment with our Partner’s performance and quality requirements, and adherence to Whipsaw’s design intent.