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License plates in the digital age.

Plate for a Lifetime?

There are currently around 55 million vehicles on the road in Germany. Depending on the type of vehicle, the registered owner and usage profile, one of the 18 basic types of license plates is required. These plates are assigned and controlled by the local vehicle registration authority (DMV) – a principle that was introduced in 1907 and hasn’t changed much in Germany. The license plate still shows a code that can be used to identify the owner of a vehicle. But wouldn’t it be possible to issue a permanent vehicle plate at the time a person receives a driver’s license? The code could be displayed on a digital plate, no matter what vehicle the person is driving – or flying.

Like Google AdSense for Vehicle Fleets.

A digital license plate prototype was presented at the North American International Auto Show by a start-up called Reviver in 2017. At first sight, the rPlate is an anti-reflective LCD display with a code number on it. A closer look reveals that the device is equipped with a GPS receiver, accelerometer, RF sensors, and CAN bus access, enabling it to communicate with the local environment. This enables the rPlate to exchange information with the authorities in real-time. The display can be updated to show when a vehicle has been stolen, the registration tag is expired, or when the operator's license has been suspended. At the same time, the display can serve as a visual warning device enabling communication with pedestrians. This idea is already being promoted by start-ups like Drive.ai and Humanising Autonomy.

The digital license plate also functions like Google AdSense for vehicles. When the car is parked, the plate is transformed into an advertising medium. Using geo-fencing technology, the exact location of the vehicle can be determined and linked with promotional offers available from local businesses.

For instance, if a car is in the parking lot of a hardware store, the rPlate would advertise products on sale in the outlet. For this type of screen sharing, the vehicle owner could be paid for each ad displayed. For car sharing fleets like car2go, the advertising would be a potential source of income when the vehicle is parked. Interactive plates could be part of a digital signage ecosystem that smart glass manufacturers like Corning and Gauzy or start-ups like car2ad are interested in penetrating.

Digital number plates could also provide valuable support for fleet management systems like Digital Vehicle Scan. They transmit real-time data about drivers and their vehicles, enable automatic vehicle registration, and provide a platform for wireless payment of road tolls, parking fees, and fuel charges.

Identity & Mobility.

Four states in the U.S. are currently testing digital license plates. The California Department of Motor Vehicles estimates that it could save up to $20 million a year. But does the digital number plate really have a future? After all, navigations systems were once small add-on devices attached to the windshield. Today they are fully integrated as standard equipment. Isn’t the rPlate just a telemetric add-on for the back bumper?

Will license plates even be necessary in the future? What the rPlate offers in terms of communication and advertising will likely be displayed on smart glass panels. Wireless payment options are already available from e-wallet providers like Slock.it, PayPal, or Apple PayTelemetric tracking technology may soon be standardized in all vehicles. And the mobility providers of tomorrow will want to have a firm grip on user and vehicle data.

Thinking a step further takes us to the world of flying cars – which will most likely use digital identification systems like the ones developed for drones by start-ups like DJI, AirMap, and DigiCert.

A Digital ID for Everything.

Reviver has made one thing clear with its rPlate: Vehicle identification is currently experiencing a digital workaround for an analog artefact. The functions of today’s metal license plates can be converted into digital form and complemented by a variety of services. In an age when cars are opened and started using biometric data, the vehicle ID can be directly linked to the driver ID. This makes an identification of the vehicle owner superfluous and enables all mobile services to be billed directly to the actual user. The question whether this should be implemented with a digital display on the front and rear of a vehicle remains open. But one thing is certain: Clearly identifying vehicles and drivers will be essential for the mobility services of tomorrow.

Authors: David Menzel and Jean-Paul Olivier