License plates are required on all cars worldwide. But in an age when conventional vehicle parts from radios to rearview are becoming smarter and connected, the standard-issue metal license plate is still just a dumb, thin piece of metal.
But that could change with the easy and inexpensive application of RFID tagging technology to license plates that chipmaker NXP showed at it recent FTF Technology Forum in Austin, Texas. And the company announced at FTF that will supply to the winning city with the plates as part of its support of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s $40 million Smart City Challenge.
NXP has already pledged to provide vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technology to the winner of the Smart City Challenge, which will be announced in June. The addition of the RFID license plate technology will allow for “automatic vehicle identification and more streamlined traffic and toll payments,” NXP said in a statement accompanying the announcement.
At the FTF conference, I sat down with Peter Esser, NXP’s head of government affairs, for a deep dive into RFID license plate technology and advantages. “The benefits are multifaceted to municipalities and to states,” Esser explained. “It facilitates automated fare collection for tolling, city parking garages, metered parking spaces and even for cities that have residential parking districts with preferred parking for residents.”
While camera technology is currently used in many cities and by private enterprises to track things tolling and such, “several states have told us that they have difficulty reading specialty license plate,” Esser said. “The complex graphics often throw off the cameras. For tolling purposes, that leads to lost revenue. If these plates were RFID-enabled, there’s no more revenue lost and the program pays for itself.”
Esser pointed out that RFID-enabled license plates can also be used by states to track cars as part of a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) road tax program, which is now being piloted in Oregon and has undergone similar smaller-scale pilot programs in other states. He added that in addition the technology allows for the tracking of stolen cars.
“In border states like Texas, vehicle theft is rampant,” Esser said. “And once a car makes it into Mexico, it’s usually gone forever. An RFID license plate, he added, could be easily identified before it leaves the country at a border checkpoint. “You could even configure the RFID tag so that it’s read by an engine control module that would disable the vehicle is someone tried to swap out the plates.”
While Esser declined to quote prices for the RFID plate technology, he noted that “the cost for these are very viable. One of the cities in the challenge is looking at deploying 50,000. And it doesn’t require having to go to plate manufacturing lines and having to retool. It’s easy and simple and you can code it anyway you see fit.”
He added that technology is also available “in a UHF sticker format if a city decides it doesn’t want to go through the expense” of creating a license plate version. “This is a low-cost but equally versatile solution,” he said. “It’s basically a window sticker. Same technology, same solutions.”
Esser noted that the technology has other uses for cities, such as tagging bicycles. “Let’s say a city has a bicycle anti-theft registration program,” he said. “In exchange for registering your bike, you’re offered one of these stickers. You can unscrew your seat and put it in the saddle tube.”
Esser added that the RFID tag can also allow a bike to “become a passive beacon to vehicles” as part of a V2X system, and this can also be applied to pedestrians. “Stick this onto a backpack or in a purse and a car with the right equipment can read it,” he explained. “So at a blind intersection or at night, drivers could be alerted to pedestrians ahead. It’s one more way to provide benefits to citizens and municipalities.”
Originally published by AutomotiveIT News