rPlate Is The License Plate Of The Future, Unfortunately
Great for fleets. The rest of us? Not so much.
Have you heard of the Internet-of-Things? People selling things you don’t need call it the IoT. The IoT is the idea that anything that can be “connected” should be. My dad didn’t live long enough to see the IoT, but he had a saying that sums up the IoT perfectly.
Anything is possible, but not everything is necessary.
Welcome to the rPlate, “the world’s first digital license plate & cloud app store”, a claim that is both fearsome and half true. Half-true because a cursory web search unearthed a company called Compliance Innovations, who have been trying to sell a connected license plate since 2013. Fearsome because where Compliance Innovations appears to have stalled, rPlate is forging ahead by adding features everyone will love, except drivers.
Drivers, of course, aren’t the customer.
Based on rPlate manufacturer Reviver’s site, their primary targets are DMVs and fleets. The actual product isn’t the plate itself, but a “connected car innovation platform” that automates vehicle registrations and turns your plates into billboards. Add telematics, location tracking and app development, and what little privacy we have left is annihilated.
Like it or not, the business model has promise. The registration component makes sense. Why didn’t this seem to work for Compliance Innovations? Possibly because of their focus on compliance for individual drivers. Would you really want your plate to change from this:
One of those is good. The other? A nice big invitation to get pulled over by police.
By focusing on fleets, Reviver is sidestepping the ire of drivers like myself — who would go absolutely ballistic if forced into using one — but it’s a slippery and short slope from fleets to individuals.
Let’s suppose they did.
Reviver isn’t clear about whether the rPlate will visually display your registration status, or just automate renewal and spare you the traffic stop and fines. One approach is very different (and exploitative) than the other. Their site doesn’t explicitly mention insurance, but it’s hard to believe once they’re in bed with state agencies, they wouldn’t cite the problem of uninsured motorists as a catalyst to tie insurance into the system.
What happens next? You have to display insurance status on the plate, because the type of motorist who fails to renew won’t be swayed by anything short of a traffic stop.
Am I defending uninsured motorists? Absolutely not. But when your car is broadcasting information which law enforcement will undoubtedly interpret as probable cause, you’re driving Pandora’s car.
Dig around the LinkedIn profiles of its principals and you can see all the way down the rabbit hole. Co-founder Mike Jordan refers to “telematics and electronic fee collection.” President Scot Gensler describes the rPlate’s “GPS, accelerometer [and] all kinds of cool sensors.” Director of Quality & Manufacturing Edwin Monclova refers to “limitless messaging.”
Telematics integration means the rPlate isn’t just powered by your car. It has direct access to vehicle data. This makes sense for fleet management. For my personal car? No thanks. This is coming from manufacturers whether we like it or not. I’m not going to adopt this unless I have to.
Electronic fee collection? I’ve got an EZ-Pass. I hate seeing it on the windshield. I hate seeing the velcro on the glass when I remove it. Use a suction mount? I hate the residue. Would I pay a surcharge for an rPlate? If it was low enough.
A GPS, accelerometer and “all kinds of cool sensors?” In hell. This is a recipe for speed enforcement. Most moving violations are merely another form of taxation. Automated ticketing through public/private partnerships has already proven toxic with the Redflex shenanigans. Between my phone and my car, I’m already being tracked more than I like. Stalking? How hard do you think it will be to hack this thing? Law enforcement bricking your car? I saw Knight Rider. Count me out. That picture above doesn't make me happy.
Advertising? Co-founder Neville Boston has talked about broadcasting location based-ads, sort of like Google AdSense for cars. I’m sure fleets will love the additional revenue source, and it makes more sense than Wrapify — the company that pays you to wrap your car in ads — but no amount of money would get me to allow 3rd party ads on my car. I’m lying. I’ve got a number. But Reviver isn’t going to pay it.
Limitless messaging? As long as it’s restricted to Amber alerts, I’m fine with this. Enable messaging while in motion? Even the most anti-government elements would have to agree this needs to be regulated. Nothing would be worse than Twitter on a license plate.
I can think of a dozen great apps Reviver hasn’t talked about, but I’ll throw out two, perfect for a mixed environment of human and self-driving cars:
1) Fourth brake light — if the plate is connected to a vehicle for more than just power, it should function as the biggest, brightest brake light on the car. Think F1 brake lights, just bigger.
2) Self-driving car communications — companies like Drive.ai are allegedly working on methods of audio/visual communication between self-driving cars, human-driven cars and pedestrians. Self-driving cars will need plates, at least for a while. Voila! Problem solved. Reviver, have your biz-dev people call John Krafcik at Waymo. Don’t bother with Tesla. You know how Musk is.
rPlate’s merits depend entirely on whether Reviver focuses on commercial fleets, or goes for the full kitty and lobbies to have connected plates mandated for everyone. You know which side of the fence I’m on. Prototype plates are already operational in California, and they have approvals from legislators in Florida and California. Arizona is pending. Move to Texas, and you’ll be protected.
What is the lifespan of license plates, anyway? As every ounce of aero and weight is extracted from car design, plates make no sense. Certainly not front plates. Rear plates will be one of the last vestiges of an analog world. Where driverless plates become ubiquitous, there won’t be plates at all, but that’s another story.
I wish Reviver good luck, just not too much of it.
Alex Roy is Editor-at-Large for The Drive, author of The Driver, and set the 2007 Transcontinental “Cannonball Run” Record in 31 hours & 4 minutes. You may follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.