Unlikely Automotive Component Enters the Digital Age, Promises Convenience, Annoyance, Privacy Concerns


Image: Reviver Auto

Why should life be hard? We have science. That was basically my dad’s rationale for replacing his gas-powered lawnmower for one of the lithium-ion variety — a product I didn’t know existed until it showed up at his house one day.

Yes, technology can be great. In our cars, it keeps insurance adjusters at bay and our cars out of the rhubarb. There’s no doubt that Cadillac deserves kudos for introducing the electric starter back in 1912 — no one likes breaking their arm or getting run over in the driveway while trying to fire up the ol’ heap. Still, as our society becomes more connected (and, strangely, more politically polarized), basic tasks seem to be handed over to digital minds at an ever greater clip. Adjusting the dash vents in a Tesla Model 3 involves navigating a menu on a touchscreen interface.

Now, a thin slab of metal affixed to one of more ends of our cars (a component historically hammered out by sweaty convicts) has entered the digital age. The license plate.

It was a long time coming. Naturally, it costs a stupid amount of money to have one.

Companies have had these things in development since at least the start of the decade. California Governor Jerry Brown even signed off on their legality five years back (Florida, Arizona, and Texas have done the same, for testing purposes only). Now, there’s a pilot program afoot in California, and you might actually start seeing them any day now. They’ll be rare, though — the pilot stipulates that no more than 0.5 percent of the state’s cars can use one.

Called the “Rplate,” this digital, Kindle-like display is the product of San Francisco-based Reviver Auto, and is only available through participating dealers. It’s for rear bumper use only. The company, which saw a big cash infusion last year, introduced the plate at January’s Detroit auto show.

The plate’s screen fades to preserve battery life once the vehicle’s parked, and utilizes a lithium-ion power source, microchip, and wireless transmitter. Yes, you can update your digital tags without heading down to the DMV. You could also display advertising on it, should the state grant the necessary approvals. The sky’s the limit on that front, actually — it could be your dealer advertising via your plate, or maybe even the government. For now, the plates are merely in a demonstration phase, and the DMV will report its findings to the higher-ups in Sacramento in two years’ time.

According to The Verge, there’s 116 of the plates already driving around the state. If you’re wondering, the plate’s battery charges while the vehicle is underway, with battery life expected to allow a dim image of the plate number, even if in minimized form, for quite some time after the owner walks away.

For the novelty of having an e-reader tacked to your rear bumper or liftgate, dealers are asking about $700, plus installation. The monthly fee is about $7.

Right now, it seems the biggest interest comes from fleet managers who like the idea of using it to keep tabs on their vehicles’ whereabouts. The company could potentially advertise via the plate, too, which is no doubt something every motorist wants to see.

Depending on your level of paranoia, the Rplate might not go over well with people worried about their license plate having a digital linkup to the DMV. Then there’s the issue of hackers and the information they could glean. As this tech is currently in its infancy, time will no doubt reveal what privacy weaknesses the Rplate’s creators have foisted upon us.

[Source: The Sacramento Bee] [Image: Reviver Auto]