CA Lic. PlateCalifornia is entertaining what may be the most gratuitous use of technology, ever.  Their legislature is considering a bill to move the state toward electronic license plates.  The plates would essentially be digital displays that would look like normal license plates at speed.  But once the car was stopped for more than 4 seconds, the plates would become small billboards displaying advertising.  The thinking is that the state would make a bundle off of selling the ad space, and that would help close their mondo budget hole.

Okay, kudos to the state for thinking outside the box a bit, but… seriously?  I’m willing to buy the financials.  I’m sure they’d sell out the ads, and the revenue from the ads would likely pay for the expensive plates with money left over to pad the state coffers.  And given the ads are only displayed when stopped, they shouldn’t be much of a driver distraction.  But there are still a few issues to be addressed.

The tech of the plates themselves would have to be pretty rugged.  You’re basically talking about a very low-end iPad-like device in a weatherproof and bulletproof package.  The system requires a screen, processor, memory, and some sort of wireless communication.  After all, it would be silly to have the plates locked in to a single ad for a whole year or whatever the duration of the registration is.  Also, these plates require power, and this would be a mod to all cars to wire that.  You can’t just tie into the license plate lights as they aren’t on all the time, and don’t even exist on the front of the car.

Not to mention that now you have $100+ of tech loosely bolted to either end of your car.  I can’t imagine anyone stealing that, right?  What about the personalization of the ads?  Given the DMV knows who you are, where you live, and what you are driving, will the ads be tailored for your vehicle or neighborhood?  Will Honda object to Toyota buying ad-time exclusively on their bumpers?  Will you be offended when ads for Jenny Craig or Tampax appear on your car?

But the big issue will be hacking. These things have to be connected to be useful.  And that means they will be hackable, and you know someone’s going to do that.  Can you just imagine the possibilities when you can alter the plates on the cars all around you?  And what about the criminal element?  Now bank thieves won’t need to do all that messy plate swapping on the getaway car.  They can just electronically alter the plate number as they drive away.

Yup… this is well thought out.  Although being from New York, it does make me feel better that maybe there’s a state with a legislature more useless than ours.

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