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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 license plates, 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 stamped 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 and affix to the car, they last for years and years, and can be made with colorful designs. But apparently it was not good enough for Reviver to invent a high tech version of it. The inventor says he was motivated by avoiding the need to receive and affix a decal once a year on the current plates. With a digital plate, it can be done remotely through the use of an app. His visits to the DMV must have been horrendous to start a company and create a product to avoid an occasional visit.

To me this is technology looking for a solution, much like adding a TV to your refrigerator. Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. 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 thing 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, a national cellular connection, and stolen vehicle recovery support. If you pay for a premium plan, you get additional features such as custom banners, special fonts, and free battery replacement.

Controlling your plate is done from an app and the plates are only allowed on the rear of the car.

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

It seems to me they will have a hard time making inroads, at least at these prices. For me the only advantage is that this modern black and white license plate looks a bit more futuristic and blends into the car a bit better. 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, the license plate can easily be stolen, and it has a battery that needs to be replaced frequently. Like many tech products, it’s an invention that adds more complications to our lives for future promises. For me it’s a big waste of money.