In the latest spin on subscription services, BMW will – for a small fee – heat the seats in your car. Maybe you saw this headline already and thought, “Fake News”. Afraid not. Rather than simply pushing the heat-the-seat button on your 3 Series sedan you must contact BMW first, who will remotely unlock the feature and charge you by the month. A separate soon-to-be-offered subscription gets you a heated steering wheel. I shouldn’t be surprised by this latest cash grab at the expense of driving comfort. After all, we’re also about to enter the era of electronic license plates.
I find U.S. license plates to be mini-artworks, don’t you? They’re colorful, often including an image or slogan to proudly advertise the state itself. The letters and numbers raise from the rest of the aluminum rectangle, giving the fingers a pleasing sensation when you brush over them. Drivers who choose “vanity plates” offer the rest of us on the road a puzzle, to figure out what phrase the chosen letters/numbers represent (and never getting the chance to ask). The U.S. Mint should take a cue from colorful license plates and print American dollars with the same pizzazz. After all, “greenbacks” are anything but mini-artworks.
But I digress. Today we’re talking about license plates, displaying numbers and letters in pixels instead of raised metal. My first thought when I read about electronic license plates? Fraud. I mean, seriously, how easy will it be to hack into the software and alter the numbers and letters, effectively rendering the vehicle impossible to track? Or worse, what if the software hiccups and the plate displays nothing at all? It’s kind of like when Colorado legalized recreational marijuana several years ago. Our state didn’t think that one through either and now we’re dealing with all sorts of hitches in the giddyup. Electronic license plates are bound to be an imperfect technology.
And yet, just like heated seat subscriptions “digital display plates” have their advantages. They’ll emit a signal for tracking and monitoring (which some will surely drive to the Supreme Court as an invasion of privacy). They can flash an easy-to-see message if the vehicle is not properly registered or insured. They can interface with parking meters and toll systems for automated payments. Finally, inevitably, they’ll offer advertisements to the captive audience in the car directly behind them, switching from letters/numbers to digital commercials when the car is stopped.
Colorado has joined four other U.S. states who already offer electronic license plates. Like BMW’s services, the plates will be offered on a monthly subscription. At $20-$25/mo. they’re a whole lot pricier than standard or even vanity plates. But you just know there are plenty of drivers who want the latest/greatest technology, even with the inevitable drawbacks of a first-generation product.
[Trivia Break! Recent demand in several U.S. states moved the license plate character count from six to seven. Guess how many unique plates you can make from a combination of three numbers and four letters alone? Sixteen million. It’s fair to say we won’t be needing an eighth license plate character anytime soon.]
I admit I’m slow to adopt new inventions, even though I spent the last twenty years of my career in tech. The laptop I’m typing on is five years old and doing just fine. The SUV I drive will last fifteen years since the one I had before it did as well. And the fitness band I wear gives me a dozen angles on my health yet I’m more interested in the time of day.
Electronic license plates may be overcomplicating the issue. The metal variety sits there quietly, displaying letters and numbers like it’s supposed to. The electronic variety aims to be anything but a license plate. Amber Alerts. Insurance/registration violations. Product advertisements. Or – God forbid – electronic bumper stickers, where the owner can publicly express the kinds of opinions to drive the rest of us to road rage.
Say what you will about BMW, but the automaker is simply climbing onboard the subscription bandwagon. Who can blame them for finding new ways to make (our) money? On the other hand, drivers may wake up one day and wonder why we ever caved to electronic license plates. We just have to glance at our roadside billboards to know we had it coming.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.