By on May 31, 2018

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]

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40 Comments on “Unlikely Automotive Component Enters the Digital Age, Promises Convenience, Annoyance, Privacy Concerns...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    How could fleet managers use this to track vehicle whereabouts? If this has a GPS tracker built in it’s an automatic no go. Cops would issue speeding tickets just off your plate readings. What a nightmare.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I don’t get the point of this. With instant plate-scanning technology, we don’t need old-fashioned tabs or stickers at all. In Washington, my registration shows as current in the state’s database the second I pay the tab tax online, and the physical tab (which arrives in the mail a couple weeks later) is kind of an afterthought. In DC, there’s no tab or sticker on the plate at all, and the only indication that a registration is current is a sticker in a difficult-to-read location in the front windshield. Why go to all the trouble of making every driver spend $700 on an electronic plate, and trying to keep them secure, when every cop can already check on a metal plate’s current status?

    • 0 avatar
      azfelix

      “…making every driver spend $700 on an electronic plate…”

      I believe this answers your question. Follow the money first.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        This is a lousy idea on so many levels, but let me attest that electric lawnmowers are da bomb! This is the season when I traditionally throw my shoulder out of shape trying to pull a small, sleepy gas engine back to life. The reward, if I’m lucky, involves a helping helping of noise and smog. Now I barely have to turn up my headphones. And if the battery dies during a pass at my half-acre, then I have an excuse to rest.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          All of my garden appliances are electric, and they’re all awesome. They wouldn’t be enough if I had acreage, but I live on 7000 sf in the city. No two-stroke stink, no fluids, no maintenance.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            My lawnmower is also the same, my reasoning was I didn’t want to mess with gasoline in the attached garage.

          • 0 avatar
            Flipper35

            Ours are all 4 stroke.

            I can just see hackers changing the numbers to a more “personalized” word.

        • 0 avatar
          geozinger

          @Wheatridger: Preach Brother! When I was nearly 300 lbs (I’ve lost a lot of weight since then) I hurt my back pushing my bagger gasoline mower up the bank in the front of my old house. Even after I got down to 210 lbs., shoving nearly 100 lbs. of lawn mower up that hill was still too much. I tried a reel mower, but unless you spend real (ha!) money on one, they suck. Then I found battery powered mowers! I had about 5000 sq. ft. at the old place and the batteries would last the whole time I was cutting. I bought a battery powered blower, too just because it was so much lighter and easier to maneuver.

          I’ll not ever go back to dino powered yard tools again.

          • 0 avatar
            la834

            Another vote for electric lawn mowers…. I bought an EGO self-propelled electric mower two years ago and it just walks all over every dead-dinosaur mower I’ve ever used. It’s lightweight, it starts at the push of a button, it’s powerful and torquey, it can be stored on its side, it’s much easier to maintain (no oil, filter, spark plug changes). Infrastructure or lack thereof may keep some of us from buying an electric car, but it works in favor of mowers and garden tools. Plugging in the battery to charge is much easier than running back and forth to a gas station with a smelly red container and pouring it in. The batteries last about an hour and take an hour to recharge, so two batteries let you mow indefinitely. The environmental advantages of an electric mower never even occurred to me until after I bought it – how much damage can a lawn mower do? Alot apparently, since they don’t have any of the emissions controls and catalytic converters that modern cars do.

            The biggest advantage though is the quietness. Not being obnoxiously loud allows me to mow in the early morning or late evening, even night since a bright pair of LED headlamps is built in. The neighbors won’t complain because they don’t hear it. This is a *huge* advantage in the DC suburbs where it is blisteringly hot in the daytime during the summer but reasonably cool in the late evenings.

    • 0 avatar
      Onus

      In Connecticut we have neither plate stickers, window stickers, or any other kind of sticker to indicate the expiration date anywhere other than your registration paper. The validity can easily be checked on the DMV website, and the cops can pull it up in two seconds on their computers.

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    I’ve always wanted a SEPARATE screen mounted on the back that I could flash messages on like:
    -your tire is low on air
    -your high beams are on
    -your blinker is on
    -please stop tailgating me
    -will move over when safe
    etc..

    • 0 avatar
      whisperquiet

      Or it could read out….. I’m driving erratically because I am eating and on the phone right now.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      I was going to comment the same thing. I’d like a screen to display custom messages on. Still wouldn’t pay $700 for it though.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      I built that in the 90s on the back of my CCCA competition 3000GT.

      I had a computer in the passenger seat and I could set messages that would show on one of those red scrolling store-front signs behind the heckblend.

      That and an external speaker so I could play ludicris’ “Move B****”.

      I thought I was cool.

      I was immature.

      But the heckblend integrated scrolling sign was epic.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I always wanted one that read “Hey, tailgater…If you hit me, your insurance buys me a new car and your rates go up. Have a great day.”

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      It could also say get off the damned phone!!!!!

  • avatar

    Different areas are different, but in the NYC area, your plate is read at every bridge crossing, even if there isn’t electronic tolling. Your ez pass tag is read all over the place, for “statistical purposes”. When an elderly person goes missing, you’d be surprised how often on the scanner you hear “LAST LPR HIT LOCATED AT….”

    this will have come down a factor of ten to have any reason to live.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    another boondoggle

  • avatar
    IBx1

    So you get automatic speeding tickets when following the flow of traffic at any speed above the limit on the road you’re using, your travel habits get sold to advertisers, your daily routine is monitored for anomalies, and they can instantly make anything a toll road.

    But hey, at least it’ll flash “stolen” as it sits on the ground where your car was parked.

  • avatar
    arach

    This is so ridiculously stupid I can’t get over it.

    the ONLY use case i can see is in fleet applications because you can “change” the owner of the plate based on whose driving (IE- car rental? )

    But why would you have a connected license plate service with a monthly fee and a high purchase price that doesn’t offer any specific value to the gov’t or you?

    Unless you want to go orwellian and say that they are just tracking you every mile you drive… which is the only other way it “makes sense”, but I don’t want that.

    and isn’t it bad that you can’t identify a car when its off? “There’s a honda civic with its lights on in the parking lot.” at a shopping mall? haha.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    There is no way I want uncontrolled ads streaming from my license plate, even if they paid *me*.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    This really makes me miss living in a flyover state. Ohio can’t even get all of its counties to institute emissions testing, this thing as mandatory would never fly there.

    As for the coasts, this will be a great way to get those terrible poor people off the streets and out of the way of the entry-level luxury CUVs/cars of the urban elite. Can’t afford $700, prole? Don’t worry, we’ll extend the bus service from 11:00 pm to 11:15!

    • 0 avatar
      whisperquiet

      It won’t get the poor people off the streets…….they already drive with suspended/revoked drivers licenses and non-current registration. It is the answer to the question no one asked.

      I feel a micro aggression coming on.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        Some of them certainly do that. More complex licensing regulations are just a regressive tax on the poor, and that includes safety and emissions testing as well. When I’m in Ohio, I see poor folks driving rusty old domestics that would never pass muster in Maryland. Maryland folks, report directly to your nearest BHPH lot for something that might get you to work… or the bus stop.

      • 0 avatar
        "scarey"

        Where I live, you couldn’t go two days with an expired license plate before getting pulled over. Another tip for driving here- cops pull over everyone with burned-out headlights. Hint: it is a state between South Dakota and Kansas. And don’t try to haul drugs on Interstate 80, either. Don’t believe me ? Google it.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Two words: cracked screen. Seriously, all I have to do is look sideways at my smartphone and the thing breaks.

    I’d say this is the dumbest idea ever, but stuff like electrified tablecloths, having factory workers licking paint brushes dipped in radium, and lawn darts are all even dumber.

    (Seriously, the electrified tablecloth was a thing: http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/art19432)

  • avatar
    George B

    I think I had a very minor part in testing this product. I built a test fixture to mount in an antenna test chamber and made some antenna pattern measurements.

    Since drivers need auto insurance before they can register a vehicle, why not have insurance companies manufacture and distribute the license plates and collect vehicle registration fees? The insurance companies would potentially get prime advertising real estate for their brand logo to get them interested, drivers could skip one step, and other drivers could infer high-risk drivers from the insurance brand.

    • 0 avatar
      Yuppie

      In the Canadian province of British Columbia, a socialist regime by American standards, the Insurance Company of British Columbia, a company owned and operated by the provincial government, collects vehicle registration fees and issues license plates, and is the sole insurer in the province. There are few unregistered or uninsured motorists, but the premiums and benefits are not competitive because it is a government monopoly!

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Jeebus this sounds stupid, oh Dog please grant us mercy from this thing and kill it.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    I can’t wait to get one of these. I like to “customize” things…

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    No interest… And by the way.. Stop asking me to subscribe to and pay a monthly fee on different features of my car!! Fee for use of the app for auto start, fee for a music service, fee for internet in car… No. My monthly payment should be it!

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    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!)

  • avatar
    manbearpig

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


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