AUTO

License Plates Are Going Digital

In 2008, long before the animated sloths worked the DMV counter in the hit movie “Zootopia,” Neville Boston, CEO of Reviver Auto, wanted to find a way to simplify the vehicle registration process. He knew the process would only become better if drivers could avoid those sloths altogether and update their registration automatically and electronically.

“People often wonder how I worked around the DMV,” Boston says. “I didn’t. I worked with the DMV. They became like partners. But the process is the process.” Which is probably why it still took Boston years to make his idea a reality, a digital license plate called RPlate Pro.

Like a Kindle for Your Car

The Reviver Auto RPlate Pro digital license plate, which is available in California, uses e-ink technology — just like Kindle e-readers — to display license plate numbers and registration dates in black and white. To update registrations, drivers simply use the RConnect platform to renew and pay the DMV online. Instead of waiting for stickers to be sent or, worse, visiting the DMV, RConnect automatically changes the dates on the digital license plate.

Installing the plate is pretty easy, too. It connects to a car’s battery, but “it takes no power to show an image,” Boston says, “so the plate will always operate as a license plate.” Unless, that is, someone takes the plate off the car. In that case, it blanks out and sends a text message to the owner. Then the license plate digits are replaced with word STOLEN and makes its location known via the RConnect online platform. This is one smart plate!

A New Personal Plate Every Day

The RPlate Pro can display other messages, too. Owners can choose to have a different specialty plate every day to support causes like breast cancer awareness or college football teams. “You can have an unlimited amount of specialty plates on one plate,” Boston says, noting that the states using his digital plates still receive revenue for specialty plates. The digital plates will also be able to display emergency messages such as Amber Alerts or severe weather warnings, similar to the messages broadcast on digital highway signs.

Drivers could even put ads on their tags. For instance, if you own a business with a fleet of delivery trucks, you might consider displaying an ad on your companies’ plates. “When [business] vehicles are legally parked,” Boston really emphasizes the legally here, “there is a messaging component.”

There are a lot of other advantages for fleet owners who use digital plates on their vehicles, Boston says. For one, the registration for any truck in the fleet can be renewed remotely, even if the truck is on a job miles away. The license plates can also tell the owner where every truck is located at any time. Owners can even pay bridge tolls via the plates, and Reviver Auto is working on an update so the plates will interface with parking meters.

Safety on the Road and Online

So what happens if you get rear-ended and your plate gets damaged? “First and foremost, [the plate] has to compliant,” Boston says. That means no matter what, the license plate must be readable. He says the e-ink screen works the same way the safety glass in a car’s windshield does. If a rock hits your windshield, it cracks and spiders, but it doesn’t break. The same goes for the RPlate Pro.

Besides the physical vulnerability of the plate, there’s also the digital security and privacy question. “We are extremely pro privacy,” Boston says. “We talked to the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and we’re transparent about all information that we’re allowing to be enabled.” For instance, drivers can choose to have GPS embedded on their license plates — or not. Turning it off means features like the stolen license plate location won’t work, but it’s an entirely optional setting in the privacy priorities.

As for security, Boston says they are using the same security protocols in online banking.

How Much Does It Cost?

The RPlate Pro is on sale in California, and is also approved for use in Arizona, Texas and Florida (so far). But it’s not cheap. It will cost drivers $ 599 just for the license plate and another $ 8 per month for the service plan. Like so many automotive technologies, that price is expected to drop as the product continues to roll out, Boston says. “Our hope is to have one on every vehicle.”

While the RPlate may be expensive, it is an easy way to bring connectivity to older vehicles, whether they are privately owned or part of a business fleet. ReviverAuto plans to deploy the RPlate in nearly a dozen states in 2018, and internationally as well.

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Auto | HowStuffWorks

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