California begins digital license plate pilot program

The $700 plate can display messages or used to track cars

After years in development, California is finally rolling out its digital license plate pilot program. Drivers can purchase and install plates that uses the same E Ink screen technology as an Amazon Kindle or various wearables. The new digital display was developed by Reviver Auto and replaces a traditional stamped plate. It's available for both consumer and commercial vehicles, though at a considerable cost.

According to The Sacramento Bee, dealerships are expected to offer the plate for $699. That price doesn't include installation, the $7 monthly service charge or the actual cost of registering a vehicle. Customers that purchase the plate can register their cars online rather than going to the DMV in person. Yearly registration will also be handled electronically so no need for annual year stickers.

When the vehicle is stopped, digital plate owners can also display custom messages, branding and advertisements, or information like Amber alerts or road closures. The plate's number will still display, just smaller and tucked into the right corner.

A built-in tracker allows for geofencing or can be used to help an owner and the police locate a stolen vehicle (or at least the vehicle's license plate if it's removed). Customers can also track and log trips based on time, distance and route using Reviver Auto's software. If you sell a car with a digital plate, the new owner can quickly transfer the car's ownership.

The thing is, geofencing, tracking and trip logging can all be done already with far less costly options. GM's OnStar allows for stolen vehicle tracking, and it's not alone in that service. There are devices that plug into a car's OBD II port that monitor all aspects of driving, from location to fuel economy to accelerator and brake input. Digital billboards for car windows are nothing new, either.

Still, this is an opt-in pilot program, so there's no guarantee that digital plates will become the norm in the future. In fact, until 2020, the California DMV can only issue digital plates to 1 percent of cars registered in the state, or about 175,000 vehicles. Reviver Auto expects fleets and tech savvy owners to be the main customers.

Sacramento is installing 24 donated plates on city-owned vehicles to test their real-world viability and benefits. The city also has plans to talk with labor representatives to assure them that the technology will not be used to track city employees.

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