Sacramento Seeing Success in Digital Plates Pilot

Sacramento Seeing Success in Digital Plates Pilot

ess than a year after unveiling its digital license plates in California, Foster City-based Reviver Auto is excited that new Gov. Gavin Newsom is working to streamline public-private partnerships to make tech more efficient.

CEO Neville Boston told Techwire that he participated in a meeting with Newsom and leading state IT officials last week about ways public-private partnerships can move the state’s tech systems forward. Boston said he has plans to make his license plates more functional in the Golden State, and he cited Newsom's perspective on procurement as a positive.

“We welcome his new, innovative thoughts on how to solve real problems,” Boston said, noting that as a first step, Newsom directed state agencies to streamline RFP processes with the goal of making partnerships easier to form.

He said that was important because better use of technology can help state agencies focus on more pressing problems than routine matters they now are required to tackle.

“The DMV, for example, wants to spend more time on the Real ID licenses, and if they have fewer people coming in for registrations or specialty plates they can do so,” he said. The new federally mandated drivers’ licenses have caused massive wait times at DMV offices because drivers have to apply for them in person, but registration could be handled by the license plate automatically.

The current pilot program, which expires on Jan. 1, 2020, allows Reviver plates to only be used as standard license plates, but the digital platforms have the capability to provide messages to other drivers, automatically pay bridge and highway tolls, and take care of DMV fees.

The new Arizona plates are expected to eventually have those capabilities but initially will allow drivers to personalize their plates in 12 different ways — mostly showing support for sports teams and the state’s universities, but with 80 more to be rolled out during the course of the year.

Michigan has also authorized Reviver plates to be used for a wide variety of tasks, which will be determined by state regulators in the coming months. Here in California, Boston said the company will sponsor legislation this year to allow similar uses here.

Among the approximately 1,300 plates that have been sold in California since last June, 35 are being used by the city of Sacramento, primarily to track mileage on its electric vehicles, which don’t have the OBD-II ports found in standard vehicles that are used for GPS tracking systems.

Mark Stevens, the city’s fleet manager, said the plates have worked nearly flawlessly except for a couple of plates that delaminated and which were promptly replaced.

“We needed a way to track their mileage and location and we found the plates could do it for us,” he said. “We would have to spend $200 per vehicle for a regular GPS system, and we’re paying $300 for these, plus the same small amount per month as we would for GPS tracking.”

The city is using Reviver’s top-end $799 model, which allows for GPS functionality. The basic $499 plate does not have that. Boston said the company gave them a great fleet discount because the city was an early adopter.

Stevens said the tracking is needed to ensure maintenance is done at the proper time, find out where cars were in case of citizen complaints and to take advantage of an electric vehicle low-carbon fuel credit.

Louis Stewart, Sacramento’s chief innovation officer, said the potential uses for Reviver’s license plates are almost limitless. For example, plates on autonomous cars could be programmed to warn drivers that they are not being driven by humans; plates on government vehicles could warn motorists about road closures and construction ahead; and they can display Amber Alert warnings or even alert drivers that the car has been stolen.

(These messages would be displayed only when the car comes to a stop.)

And Stewart wants to make this test case the first of many in Sacramento, in part because the city is one of the first in the nation to get 5G Internet service that will allow communication with Reviver’s plates in real time (although that process is going more slowly than expected.)

“We want Sacramento to be the place for developing hardware,” he said.

By John Frith

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