California's dramatic new license plate is hitting the streets — a digital display board that allows changeable messages controlled by the driver or remotely by fleet managers.
The new plates use the same computer technology as Kindle eBook readers, along with a wireless communication system.
They come with their own computer chips and battery.
Motorists who choose to buy the plate can register their vehicles electronically and eliminate the need to physically stick tags on their plates each year. They also may be able to display personal messages — if the DMV decides to allow that.
If the car is stolen, the plate's manufacturer says the plate can tell the owner and police exactly where the car is or at least where the license plate is if it has been detached.
California, which has been quietly prepping its roll-out this year, is the first state to try out the new plates.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles is conducting a pilot project with a Bay Area company, Reviver Auto, which makes the plate and is about to begin marketing it for sale at auto dealerships.
Last week, Sacramento became the first city to agree to test the plates, taking a shipment of 24 plates for its in-house vehicle fleet.
The technology comes with a high price, however, and has already prompted questions about privacy and safety.
Dealerships are expected to sell the plates for $699, not including installation costs. Users also must pay a monthly fee of about $7. The plates are not available through the DMV.
Some drivers are questioning whether the device's communications system could allow the state, the police or private companies to track a driver's movements.
In a recent blog posting, Alex Roy, an editor at The Drive website, raised those and other questions.
"What little privacy we have left is annihilated," he wrote. "This makes sense for fleet management. For my personal car? No thanks."
Neville Boston, founder of Reviver Auto, said he expects initial interest to come from companies for their vehicle fleets.