Coming to a Car Near You: Smart Digital License Plates

Automotive technology innovation is finally making its way to every part of a vehicle, including the license plate, where car owners and fleet managers in several states can now choose to add 6x12-inch LED screen license plates. The company behind the technology, Reviver, has plans to add many features for the digital license plate, including family services and alerts, stolen car reporting, tolling system integration, vehicle diagnostic alerts, DMV transactions, and parking payment services integration.

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Image credit: Reviver

In just a few years, digital license plates have gone from experimental curiosity to a consumer tech that’s been embraced in five states, with others in the wings. And for the foreseeable future, one company — Reviver — has the market to itself with its RPlate technology for individual vehicles, and RFleet for transport companies looking to scale up their licensing and tracking needs for truck fleets.

Users can select dark letters on a light background, and vice-versa. On-board telematics tied to the vehicle identification number can signal if service is needed. Customized messages can also be posted on the digital plates (“Stolen” or “Amber Alert…”) to alert law enforcement and other motorists. 

Reviver RPlate mobile app

Image credit: Reviver

Powering Up the Plates

The digital plate can be powered in two ways. A digital license with its own battery is expected to last five years or 50,000 miles; it’s a monochrome display that the drivers can install themselves. The hard-wired RPlate has a 12-volt connection that allows the plate to be front-lit, but requires professional installation.

For connectivity, the battery-powered RPlate uses Bluetooth Low Energy with a range of about 30 feet and also uses cellular LTE for low-power IoT connection. In addition to those features, the hard-wired version has built-in GPS, according to Reviver.

Individual motorists perform most of the RPlate’s functions through the Reviver smartphone app; they can also use the app to pay any licensing fees to their state’s department of motor vehicles, as well as Reviver’s monthly fees, which start at $20. Annual fees run $215.40 per vehicle with a four-year agreement.

Power-Down Theft Protection

Initially, users will still need a paper application to get their digital vehicles registered. They’ll also need a conventional metal plate for the front of the car. Once they obtain the RPlate, they’ll be driving around with the equivalent of a tablet computer attached to the rear bumper. If the unit is tampered with physically or removed, it powers down and is useless to anyone but the user with the matching app profile.

Reviver’s digital plates are already available for drivers in Arizona, California, and Michigan; the plates are available in Texas for fleet owners. Reviver is coming soon to Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and Colorado, as different pieces of legislation are passed in each state, according to the company. South Carolina is also exploring the technology.

While the plates are legal to use in all 50 states and in Canada, not every state’s DMV has embraced digital plates, even though Reviver’s design conforms to the specs set out by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. State DMVs are also posting website notices that they receive no percentage or payment for making digital licenses available, and Reviver determines the cost of the units.

For its part, Reviver says it's reimagining the customer experience for drivers. “While all other aspects of the vehicle have become modernized, it only makes sense that the license plate becomes modernized to reflect the current expectations of drivers,” the company says. “RPlates allow drivers to connect with their vehicles in new ways, giving new purpose to the traditional, outdated license plate.”

Reviver RPlate

Image credit: Reviver

Revving Up Cost Savings from Digital Plates

Advocates of digital plates cite $20 million in annual taxpayer savings that could be derived through automating the registration and renewal processes. Cost savings could come from DMV automation, and also by avoiding replacement fees when regular metal plates are stolen. Many states also use registration stickers on plates, so users of digital plates would avoid that replacement cost as well. In addition to paying tolls, digital plates could in the future be synced up with parking apps to simplify that aspect of driving for motorists.

For their part, car makers have been mostly mute on the subject of digital license plates. Perhaps they’re holding off on making any design changes until they can see whether digital licensing is just another after-market niche, like window tinting or audio upgrades.

While some 30,000 digital license plates are already on the road in California, it’s not clear yet whether this accessory will become as essential to the digital driving experience as GPS, backup cameras, or multiple wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and satellite connectivity. 

Reviver technology has been available for five years, but for now, no competitors or copycats are testing the waters. So, if digital licensing takes off for consumers or fleet owners, Reviver will have a sizable, first-to-market advantage.

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