Digital license plates part of new wave in vehicle tech

Reviver has introduced a digital license plate, known as rPlate. Photo courtesy of company.

You know those local watering holes or roadside grills.  License plates adorn the walls like a multi-colored cross-section of the lower 48.

Well, those places may have a bit more décor on their hands if the efforts of Reviver continue to gain steam.

The San Francisco-based company says it aims to “establish a universal connected car innovation platform — a mission made possible by reviving legacy automotive solutions and making them fully interactive, robust and connected to a universal store of digital applications.”

Including license plates.

The company’s “rPlate” digital license plate was introduced in January at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show as part of the Automobili-D connected car tech event.

As of press time in late February, rPlate had been approved by California and Florida state legislatures, according to a spokesperson on behalf of the company. 

Arizona’s Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division had given the rPlate preliminary approval. There is ongoing legislation in Texas.  There are prototype plates being used in California, and Reviver aims to launch the rPlate in four states by year’s end, the spokesperson said.

And on Jan. 26, Reviver announced $6.8 million Series A round of funding, co-led by WRV and Australian-based ACK Group. 

“This investment will help fund the expansion of our engineering team which will allow us to accelerate the development of the next generation rPlate,” Reviver chief executive officer and founder Neville Boston said in the late January news release.

“As a result of our successful collaboration with the California DMV, Governor's Office, State Legislature, CHP and the California Department of Transportation, the rPlate is ready to roll to assist large fleet operators in tracking and managing their vehicles, including automating DMV registrations and providing a platform for the wireless payment of road tolls, parking and even gasoline,” Boston said.

That funding will also go towards expanding rPlate into other states and seeing what opportunities exist abroad. 

The day after that funding was announced, AuSM sat down with Boston at the NADA Convention & Expo to talk more about the rPlate.  We asked what industry need the company sought out to solve.

“We looked at what issues there were when it came to vehicle registration. And there was a huge problem with having to actually always physically touch the plate to update it, especially in the fleet space. And we saw a way to actually solve a problem, and that’s why we went after it,” Boston said.

He also explained why this issue is particularly problematic with fleets, and shared how being inclusive with state government (which started with California) have paid off.

“They’ve always know it’s a problem, but they didn’t know how to deal with it,” Boston said regarding the fleet piece. “I think it was, nobody wanted to deal with state government and were scared about having to deal with it. We had a unique skill set, where we could go in and actually have those conversations at a very high level. And we were just inclusive. We said, ‘Listen, this is what we’re thinking about doing. We want to automate your registration process, first and foremost. And we think by having the plate, you can send your information over air, simplify your process. You still get paid.’

“We’re able to build the business around that and they were open to it. Because we didn’t build it and show them that we were doing it; we asked for their input before we did anything. And that’s the same thing we did with CHP and then the department of transportation as well,” Boston said. 

“So, we brought them in; we made it inclusive. Because it’s a big problem for fleets; it’s also a problem for consumers.”

Benefits of its use

As far as the major benefits, Boston points to “ease of use” as one in particular.

“You’ve got something (where) you can go to our site. You can register your vehicle, and automatically your sticker changes. It just simplifies a process that’s really painful and that everybody has a visceral reaction to,” he said. “And then for our fleet customers, it’s about really simplifying the process of tracking your vehicles, where they’re going and how they’re operating. And then also, from a messaging standpoint, you have the ability to actually put out targeted messages when the vehicle is legally parked.”

So, how does a device like that stay charged? There is a battery attached to the rPlate, Boston said, but the device can also be plugged into the OBD-II connection under steering column to provide power continually.

As far as accounting for fraud — say, for instance, someone swapping out devices from car to car illegally — Boston explained that the device is fixed to the vehicle, so you would have to remove the bumper. Not exactly pragmatic crookery.

Beyond that, there is also an interchange with DMV, Boston explained, where the VIN and license plate number are matched. If it’s not connected, there’s a beacon to notify the company.

Automotive-experienced board

Reviver announced its board of directors the same day of the Series A funding.

It includes:

  • Nicholas Brathwaite, co-founder of Riverwood Capital and managing Partner of WRV
  • Andrew Iorgulescu, president of Appraisal Lane
  • Ernst Lieb, former chief executive officer and president of Mercedes Benz USA, Canada and Australia
  • Simon Szewach, managing partner at ACK Group
  • John Thompson, former chairman and CEO Symantec; chairman of Microsoft

Those familiar with the auction business will likely recognize Iorgulescu, who was a co-founder of OPENLANE.

So we asked Boston if there was any opportunity for the company on the wholesale side of the market.

“Absolutely, at some point,” he said. “I think (with) the plate, we’re focused on three things right now: automating registration, giving you peace-of-mind tied to being able to track your vehicle and lastly about the messaging

“But the platform allows for a million other things to be done,” Boston said. “So we’re looking at different partnerships that we can enter into that are going to allow us to expand what we’re doing now.”

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