California has passed a law allowing for a trial run of the first electronic license plates in the United States. Instead of printed metal, the new plates will be screens capable of displaying a variety of messages.
The California State Senate has just approved a bill that may lead to the production of new electronic license plates. It joins South Carolina and New Jersey, who also have similar bills in progress. The bill, which has already passed the state’s assembly, now goes to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature. The bill allows for a limited pilot program which is to be completed no later than January 1st, 2017 and comprising no more than 0.5% of the state’s registered vehicles. Those vehicles would be used to road test and evaluate the plates.
The new license plates, instead of metal, will be made from a digital screen that can display an image of the license plate. Along with the registration number for the car, a wireless connection to a central server could update the screen to provide other relevant information, such as whether the plates are expired or if the car has been stolen. This will likely make the DMV happy, which spends an annual $20 million on postage when mailing out stickers for California plates.
A mock-up of what a digital license plate may look like when the plates are expired.
Obviously, there have been some privacy concerns regarding the new plates: If the plates can be updated through a central server, the plates’ location must be known to someone. Lee Tien at the Electronic Frontier Foundation has looked into the issue: “We’ve been talking to Senator Hueso on the bill, and it’s gotten some amendments that address some of the location privacy issues—within the pilot, the DMV would not be receiving any location information, but the company that operates the plates would [have access, and] they are going to be controlling what’s on the plates.”
California may already have chosen a company to produce the plates. San Fransisco based Smart Plate Mobile holds a patent on digital electronic license plates and is a candidate for production. Why Smart Plate Mobile has been chosen isn’t quite clear as other companies, including General Motors, hold similar patents.