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Are digital license plates the future? High-tech plates enable message displays and registration renewal

Reviver offers two digital license plates. The basic plate, which is battery operated, is called Rplate and uses Bluetooth connectivity.

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Anthony Williams is a die-hard Las Vegas Raiders fan who will tell it to the world from the back end of his Tesla.

About a year ago, Williams, 52, bought a battery-operated “Rplate” digital license plate. He liked its sleek look, which complemented the futuristic design of his 2017 all-electric Tesla Model S, he said.

The plate is functional, too.

Running through an app on his phone, it relieves him of the hassle of going to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles for his registration, messing with plate stickers, and it can alert other drivers that his car is stolen. But his favorite feature is the message display on the plate, which he can change using the app to say whatever he fancies on any given day.

“I can put up my favorite sports team and I can change the background colors,” said Williams, who lives in Huntington Beach, California.

“There are hundreds of messages to choose from on the app. It runs the gamut. There’s ‘Gone Fishing’ ... or my neighbor is a huge Lakers fan, and when Kobe Bryant passed away, we both displayed ‘Kobe RIP.’”

Digital license plates have been allowed in California and Arizona since 2019. At a starting price of nearly $500 a plate with a $55 yearly connectivity fee, only 3,300 people have them in California and Arizona.

The company that created them, Reviver, is in discussions with 11 other states, including Michigan and Illinois, to offer the plates. Reviver expects to begin selling its digital license plates in Michigan during the second quarter next year.

“There are a lot of things that it can eventually do,” said Neville Boston, founder of Reviver, who envisions a day when the digital license plate can access roadside assistance. “It’s also a virtual wallet for your car. I can see a future where you can pay at Starbucks with it.”

Simplify vehicle registration

Boston, 49, founded the company in 2009 and started devising ways to make a license plate more functional than its present metal iteration, which he sees going the way of leaded gasoline and soon internal combustion engines in lieu of battery-electric vehicles.

“It’s the one thing on a vehicle that over the past 100 years hasn’t changed and it’s a pain point for a lot of people,” Boston said. “Wouldn’t you just like to have registration done and not have to put stickers on it, so that it’s just one less thing to have to deal with?”

Boston’s initial idea was to simplify the vehicle registration process, but he soon realized that having a connected vehicle platform going through the license plate would open up other uses. He drew inspiration from the evolution of the cell phone.

“We all initially had flip phones and all you used it for was to talk,” Boston said.

“Now think of what you do with your phone: You pay bills on it, email on it, you do research on it, it connects to your smartwatch, you can check your vitals on it and you also talk on it. I think of the license plate the same way.”

Two options

The plates display computer-generated imagery, using technology that is similar to an e-reading tablet. Reviver offers two digital license plates. The basic plate, which is battery operated, is called Rplate. It uses Bluetooth connectivity and the battery will last five years, Boston said.

The Rplate enables electronic vehicle registration renewal, eliminating the need for stickers or visits to the Secretary of State. It can also display preapproved banner messaging such as an amber or silver alert, and of course there is the pre-approved personalized messaging the owner can display using the app.

Boston said people can finance the purchase of a plate for $17.95 per month on a three-year contract. After three years, it’s $4.99 a month for the connectivity fee or $55 a year.

The other plate is called the Rplate Pro. It can do the same things as the Rplate and more.

Typically fleet customers are the ones interested in this model, Boston said. It has GPS and offers such telematics as vehicle miles traveled, speed control, geofencing to monitor and control geographic boundaries of drivers, and various safety and security features, too.

The Rplate Pro costs $599 plus $75 per year in connectivity fees and must be professionally installed because it runs on the vehicle’s electrical system. The plates are connected through either Verizon or AT&T, Boston said.

The driver uses an encrypted app to renew the registration.

The Rplate Pro can tell the driver where the car is parked or if someone has driven the car outside the driver’s preselected radius. The plates can also display the word “stolen” once the owner reports the vehicle stolen to police.

Boston said custom data is secure and the company never shares data with the state or any third party. He said Reviver uses the same security standards that banks use to guard online services from hacking. Plus, users can turn off location data at any time.

‘A conversation piece’

Brian Allan, 58, first learned of the digital plates when he was working as general manager of Galpin Motors in Los Angeles in 2018.

He was also leading Galpin’s business development, so “anything I thought would be worthy of customers I would bring to the table,” he said.

The only plate offered at that time was the Rplate Pro. Reviver has had authorization to sell the plate in California since 2016 when a pilot program for the plates began.

At the time, it cost $1,100 for the plate and installation and it had to be hard-wired to the car because there was no battery-operated option, Allan said. Still, Allan had to have one.

Allan, who is senior vice president at HyreCar Inc., a company that rents cars for ride share and delivery drivers, just got the basic Rplate for his other car, a 2002 Jaguar XK8 convertible.

The car, which he calls his “Shaguar,” was used to promote the film “Austin Powers in Goldmember.” Allan bought it in 2002 and in those 18 years it only has 21,000 miles on it, he said.

Allan said he has had his regular license plate stolen a couple times and even had people steal the sticker tags off his regular plates. He said it’s “a real pain to get tags replaced in California.”

While adoption may be slow, Allan said digital plates will one day be the norm.

Just look around, he said.