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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Jun 01, 2018

    Since drivers that are using a phone are hardly aware of other vehicles around them, having a sign that tells them to hang up is redundant. Electronic license plate? How about a steam powered lawn mower? (Works by Satellite!)

  • Manbearpig Manbearpig on Jun 05, 2018

    And to think, it wasn't that long ago that you could delete your radio for credit when buying a new car...

  • Dartdude Having the queen of nothing as the head of Dodge is a recipe for disaster. She hasn't done anything with Chrysler for 4 years, May as well fold up Chrysler and Dodge.
  • Pau65792686 I think there is a need for more sedans. Some people would rather drive a car over SUV’s or CUV’s. If Honda and Toyota can do it why not American brands. We need more affordable sedans.
  • Tassos Obsolete relic is NOT a used car.It might have attracted some buyers in ITS DAY, 1985, 40 years ago, but NOT today, unless you are a damned fool.
  • Stan Reither Jr. Part throttle efficiency was mentioned earlier in a postThis type of reciprocating engine opens the door to achieve(slightly) variable stroke which would provide variable mechanical compression ratio adjustments for high vacuum (light load) or boost(power) conditions IMO
  • Joe65688619 Keep in mind some of these suppliers are not just supplying parts, but assembled components (easy example is transmissions). But there are far more, and the more they are electronically connected and integrated with rest of the platform the more complex to design, engineer, and manufacture. Most contract manufacturers don't make a lot of money in the design and engineering space because their customers to that. Commodity components can be sourced anywhere, but there are only a handful of contract manufacturers (usually diversified companies that build all kinds of stuff for other brands) can engineer and build the more complex components, especially with electronics. Every single new car I've purchased in the last few years has had some sort of electronic component issue: Infinti (battery drain caused by software bug and poorly grounded wires), Acura (radio hiss, pops, burps, dash and infotainment screens occasionally throw errors and the ignition must be killed to reboot them, voice nav, whether using the car's system or CarPlay can't seem to make up its mind as to which speakers to use and how loud, even using the same app on the same trip - I almost jumped in my seat once), GMC drivetrain EMF causing a whine in the speakers that even when "off" that phased with engine RPM), Nissan (didn't have issues until 120K miles, but occassionally blew fuses for interior components - likely not a manufacturing defect other than a short developed somewhere, but on a high-mileage car that was mechanically sound was too expensive to fix (a lot of trial and error and tracing connections = labor costs). What I suspect will happen is that only the largest commodity suppliers that can really leverage their supply chain will remain, and for the more complex components (think bumper assemblies or the electronics for them supporting all kinds of sensors) will likley consolidate to a handful of manufacturers who may eventually specialize in what they produce. This is part of the reason why seemingly minor crashes cost so much - an auto brand does nst have the parts on hand to replace an integrated sensor , nor the expertice as they never built them, but bought them). And their suppliers, in attempt to cut costs, build them in way that is cheap to manufacture (not necessarily poorly bulit) but difficult to replace without swapping entire assemblies or units).I've love to see an article on repair costs and how those are impacting insurance rates. You almost need gap insurance now because of how quickly cars depreciate yet remain expensive to fix (orders more to originally build, in some cases). No way I would buy a CyberTruck - don't want one, but if I did, this would stop me. And it's not just EVs.