Smart signs: the license plate will soon know more than where you live

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The license plate will soon know more than where you live

Smart signs: the license plate will soon know more than where you live-smart

License plates hardly have to be able to do anything, at least so far. But an electronic revolution is also underway with license plates

Source: sp-x / SPS

In Germany, the license plate has so far only taken on the role of the traditional license plate. But abroad it is already being upgraded electronically. When is it so far with us??

Kennzeichen do not have to be able to do anything, at least so far. But while Germany still traditionally relies on the coined combination of letters and numbers, the rest of the world has long since progressed: Integrated chips offer additional information, and a third, non-removable label makes it difficult for sign thieves to carry out criminal activities. And much more is possible – integrated holograms or special watermarks, for example.

When it comes to the technological future of the license plate, there is only one address worldwide. And that can be found in Siegen in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Utsch company, which is no less than the world’s largest producer and supplier of such signs, resides there, largely unnoticed by the public.

You drive with the Siegen license plates in Iraq as in Denmark, the company is just as active in Brazil as it is in Cameroon, Malaysia or Switzerland. In 2012 alone Utsch produced around 50 million license plates worldwide.

Germany still without clever signs

Anyone who finds out about the technological possibilities from the sign makers will soon recognize Germany as a developing country – and perhaps also wish it stayed that way. Because elsewhere it has long been about further labeling or the electronic readout of vehicle data.

"Third labels, for example, are already being used in many countries around the world, for example in Asia and Africa," says Helmut Jungbluth, CEO of Erich Utsch AG. However, this third mark is not an additional embossed aluminum plate, but a different type of identification.

Simply put, it is a self-adhesive film in credit card format. "Such a third number plate contains, among other things, the legend of the actual number plate – that is, the combination of letters and numbers that we all know," explains Jungbluth. "It is attached to the inside of the windshield."

Signs can even contain the tax number

If someone steals the conventional plates at the front and rear, they can hardly do anything with them, because when they are installed on another vehicle, the missing third plate is noticeable. An attempt to free the adhesive label from the window is doomed to failure. The film, which is additionally protected against forgery by means of holograms, for example, is destroyed in such an attempt.

However, this is only the basic program. "In addition to self-destructive foils and holograms, third labels can also contain a chip as a further feature," says Jungbluth. The capabilities of such chips are summarized in the abbreviation RFID, which stands for radio frequency identification.

These are radio tags that can contain a range of additional information – right up to the tax number. At Utsch, the in-house combination of license plate and chip is called Iltag (Intelligent License Tag). The data carrier contained can be written with information by the licensing authorities or the police, up to 1000 characters are possible.

There are still many questions about data protection

While conventional license plates are recognized by the human eye or cameras, the chip requires suitable reading systems that can read its data from outside the vehicle. This is used in areas with access controls or at toll stations.

Another version of the electronic number plate has been developed in Great Britain by the manufacturer Hills Numberplates. There you do not work with a third label, but combine the chips with the conventional labels to form e-plates. The chip is integrated into the license plate in such a way that it cannot be removed without damaging it. At Utsch, too, the traditional aluminum signs have now been “married” to an RFDI chip and are now being offered worldwide.

The electronics in or around the license plate may be practical and useful to government agencies. But the systems don’t just have followers. Such chips are considered questionable, especially with regard to data protection.

If the streets are fully equipped with reading devices, the movement pattern of almost every driver can be followed – which of course is not right for everyone. There is also the problem with other information that can be stored in the chip. According to Helmut Jungbluth, however, only the actual license plate number and a chip identification are usually saved there; there are a few countries that save additional information.

The aluminum sheet will still survive

At Utsch, it is currently rather unlikely that such electronics will also be used in Germany in the foreseeable future. However, this can change quickly if the toll for cars does become a reality.

What will not change in spite of all the electronics is the presence of embossed signs. According to Utsch boss Jungbluth, these cannot be completely replaced by electronic measures.

“When driving on the road, people must always be able to recognize the license plate with their own eyes. Therefore, the license plate on the front and rear of the vehicle will be retained as it has been since the dawn of the automobile age. ”But this does not exclude additional security features: At Utsch we speak of integrated holograms, watermarks or coats of arms or information integrated in barcodes.

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