California is now testing a unique license plate option: a digital license plate that sports a Kindle-like E-ink display and host of features that not everyone is super excited about.
Here’s the basic run down of the new (currently in pilot-testing) license plates. The plate can be changed automatically—but not to switch out your license number like you’re a spy racing across international borders—to update the displayed registration data and (theoretically if the State of California approves) display advertisements or other data when the car is stopped.
In addition to the flexibility of the display, the digital plates also sport a tracking device that will alert the police to the location of a stolen vehicle and allow for general vehicle tracking. While a lot of people can get behind the idea of never going to the DMV again, not a lot of people are thrilled about the whole “license plate as tracking device” angle
Still, the tracking does have practical applications. In an interview with The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento City Manager Louis Steward explained the motivation for Sacramento serving as home base for the pilot program: the city envisions the plates as pivotal to the adoption of autonomous cars as it would allow the city to monitor where the autonomous cars are traveling and effectively manage the flow of traffic more efficiently. Additionally the plates can be used to monitor the location of regular old human-driven fleet vehicles. While that’s a proposition we’re sure not many workers are thrilled about, it’s still a practical application the city is clearly interested in.
As of now, however, the plates seem rather impractical for the average person to adopt. Presently the projected costs are $699 + installation fees and a monthly fee of $7 to link the plate to the grid. Even for people interested in adopting new technologies, that’s a steep entry cost for a product that’s not particularly fun. Seven hundred bucks for a new tablet or a VR headset is one thing, but it’s not exactly a thrilling purchase when you’re sinking it into a license plate.