The license plate hasn't changed much since its inception in Massachusetts in 1903. Back then, they were just black letters on a white background and were made with cardboard, leather, plastic, and even copper and pressed soybeans, of all things. Now, they all made out of metal, and the fanciest thing you can do with them is customize them with vanity lettering, sports teams, or other custom designs depending on the state in which you live. Now, in the age of digital everything, it's about time the technology made its way to license plates. You probably didn't know it was already a thing.

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Reviver's Rplate can be controlled via smartphone and send customized messages. 

Digital license plates are more than just a fancy way of displaying plate information. The technology goes far beyond just the basics and can include customization, detect and display when vehicle is stolen and even show advertisements. Moreover, digital plates utilize what's known as "advanced telematics" to interact with parking meters, toll booths, and Amber Alerts. It can also be tracked via GPS, so it acts like a Lo-Jack and can even send a notification when the plate has been tampered with or removed.

Are They Legal?

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Yes, you can drive in California with a digital plate. (image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The digital license plate is actually a reality in three states that have passed legislation for their use -- California, Michigan and Arizona. Reviver is the main manufacturer for these digital plates (known as Rplate), and they're currently working to pass legislation in Georgia, Illinois, Florida, and Washington state. The major concern when it comes to passing legislation is the transmission of OTA (Over The Air) data/information because of privacy concerns. Not only are there worries about data theft but also providing location data, revealing what drivers are doing, where they live, and their routines. Clearly, the hurdles can be overcome since some states have passed it, but it will take more time for the rest of the country to adopt it, state by state.

It May Make the DMV Obsolete

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Soon, you may only need to go to the DMV for your Real ID license. (image: WGN)

Everyone knows the pain of the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Long lines, rude employees, and confusing processes are just some qualities of the state-run facilities we'd rather avoid. Though digital license plates won't completely get rid of the DMV, it's just one step in that direction. You may not even have to register your vehicle at the DMV since all updates can take place over the air and through your digital plate. Emissions status, registration, and stickers can all be displayed on the digital plate. Even plate personalization will occur via smartphone connection. 

It Can Do More Than Show a Plate Number

Not only will digital plates be able to display relevant information about your vehicle, there's also opportunity for ads to be displayed while retaining the actual plate information in the same view. Reviver Auto Rplate founder Neville Boston refers to it more as a "communications portal" than just a digital license plate. Its usage will be far more versatile than the typical metal plate. 

It Could Get Damaged

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Imagine this happening to your digital license plate. (image 4x4 Icon)

There shouldn't be any major concerns about theft since the plate will essentially be useless if tampered with or stolen. Professional installation means it's not exactly easy to handle by the consumer, and security measures should prevent would-be thieves from even trying. The biggest concern should be damage to the plate. Living in major urban areas where parking is tight means digital plates could get smashed and rendered useless. Whether or not additional protective measures will be available is unknown. We're guessing owners will want to find parking spots where the potential for damage will be reduced. 

It's Going to Be Expensive


Rplate and Rplate Pro aren't cheap. The e-reader type ink display commands funds for the technology, and it's likely buyers will be willing to pony up for the convenience and coolness factor. Rplate is now $499 and Rplate Pro with additional features is $599. There's also a nominal monthly fee for usage.  Though we know it won't be attainable for everyone, we're guessing adoption will soon become widespread. 

We love the idea of digital plates because it will make car ownership easier but not less expensive. It really is the way of the world, and the mere fact that 8 states will allow their use by the end of 2019 shows its inevitable ubiquity in the not-too-distant future.