License to steal

If you live in California, Arizona, or Michigan, you may have spotted some cars with black and white license plates. They’re no ordinary plates; they’re digital, consisting of a monochrome display, a battery and a cellular radio. Pioneered by the California company Reviver, they’re promoted as the modern successor to the metal plates that have been in use in the U.S. since the early 1900’s and in France since 1893.

Stamped metal license plates have not changed in over 100 years for many reasons: they’re inexpensive to produce, lightweight, easy to affix to a car, they last for years and years, and can sport colorful designs. It’s a design that never needed to be changed; a simple solution that has withstood the test of time.

But apparently it was not good enough for Reviver to invent a high tech version of it. The founder, Neville Boston, says he was motivated to eliminate trips to the DMV to buy his plate and then attach a decal to it each year. With a digital plate, it can be done remotely through the use of an app.

His visits to the DMV must have been horrendous for him to start a company and create a product, just to avoid an occasional visit! This seems like technology looking for a solution, much like adding a TV to your refrigerator or WiFi to your oven. In this case it’s a real stretch.

For those that are intrigued, the digital license plate has a few other features. You can choose white on black or black on white to match the aesthetics of your car and you can also add a message to the bottom of the plate.

But if you got this far and think this may be something for you, get out your wallets. The plates cost $700 plus a yearly fee ranging from $35 to $145. Or they can be rented for about $40/month. That gets you a plate for the rear of your car, a national cellular connection, and stolen vehicle recovery support. If you pay for a premium plan, you get additional dubious benefits such as custom banners, special fonts, and free battery replacement. The plates come in two versions: powered by an internal battery and wired to the car.

As noted, the plates are available for motorists in California, Arizona and Michigan, and for fleets of vehicles in Texas. The company is pushing to next sign up Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Ohio, Maryland and North Carolina.

I think it’s a real tough sell at these prices. The only advantage is that the plate looks a bit more modern and blends into the car. It’s also a statement for those that like to show off the latest technology and have money to burn. But like many new tech gadgets it comes with a hefty price beyond the cost of acquisition. There’s now the need for another app to control it, a digital plate is more likely to be stolen, it has a battery that needs to be replaced, and it’s another recurring payment. Like many tech products, it’s an invention that adds more complications to our lives while solving a problem that no one has.

by Phil Baker

2 thoughts on “License to steal

  1. Bill says:

    Thanks for the article, I would not have known otherwise. Several places do not require you to get a new sticker. Since any police agency can enter your license plate into their computer and see if it is valid, there is not any need to have stickers anymore. What would be good to have, and worth money, would be a tracking device that’s hard for a thief to find and disable. Doesn’t the rest of the world just put a license plate on every car and it stays with the car for life? You sell the car, you transfer the plate.

  2. Rick says:

    I’m in Michigan and was unaware that these black & white plates were digital. If they are connected to a signal, and they can also track your car if it’s stolen, they will also be able to track your speed and other info they’d be able to share with your insurance company, police and others. No thank you.

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