“It just makes so much sense,” I thought as the car dealer showed me the new plates that were delivered for my recently purchased used car. The vehicle registration plates – more succinctly known as license plates – in New Jersey were changed only about a month ago. The first thing you notice is how flat, yet clear, the letters and numbers are. For the first time in over 80 years, the NJ license plates do not contain embossed lettering. Initially in 1908, a person with resources to buy a car was issued a number by the state and required to hire a woodworker or shoemaker to fashion a unique marker of identification. Half a decade later, the state began making its own plates out of porcelain and painted the numbers and letters. To make it more difficult to counterfeit, NJ began the practice of embossing in 1933 and that lasted – through color and design changes – until about last month.
Why the change? And why now? I thought perhaps a private company began producing the plates after some zealot claimed that the incarcerated making license plates should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Or that the fallout from 20 years of raiding teacher and state employee pensions forced the politicians to find money in the budget by reducing the cost of plate manufacturing. Neither seems to be the case.
Over the last few decades, many states began including ornate background designs which were screen printed over embossed fonts. In the early 90s, New Jersey went with a reflective sunrise inspired design in which for the first time the state name and motto were printed flat with the new technology. Once digital printing came to be widely used about 10 years ago, many states switched to entirely flat plates. Most were supplied by technology built by 3M, though Avery Dennison – the folks who have an entire aisle of adhesive printing labels at your local Staples – supplies reflective sheeting to some states, including at times, New Jersey. Too, a holographic watermark has been included to avoid illegal plate counterfeiting, similar to checks and paper currency, making the original need to emboss the fonts irrelevant.
My initial reaction that flat plates just made so much sense is because it would seem that the cost of manufacturing could be dramatically reduced while speed and design variations could be increased. It has to be cheaper to digitally print a roll of license plates than to stamp out plates individually, right? The technology allows for multiple designs created in the same run and even the storage of the plates in inventory is likely cut in half due to the lack of raised letters. The prison system is still teaching skills to the inmates in manufacturing 3 million plates every year in NJ, but the costs have been reduced. Seems to be a win-win.
Better technology makes embossed vehicle plates a collector’s item. Embossed numbers on credit cards are obsolete yet they still remain. Fraud protection is built in and I haven’t seen a manual credit card carbon copier in over a decade. Other things are made obsolete by their own effectiveness and the passage of time; such as the polio vaccine and unions. And there are some things that have evolved due to a confluence of these factors. One example has recently come to my attention in two New York City based startups, both redefining the paradigm of mobile workforce communications.
As we’ve evolved from phone to e-mail to text, the efficiency and speed with which we can communicate as a workforce has increased. These benefits have been greatly enhanced not with just innovation in software but with the devices as well. Leaving an e-mail on someone’s work desktop may be returned as quickly as a message once left on the phone – by the next day. With a movement from desktop to mobile, those e-mails are now available at all times. Texting encourages even more immediacy.
It’s not just how quick we sometimes need responses in work situations. Previously, individuals working remotely or in a mobile environment (i.e. salespeople, event staff) did not have access to the same quality of work tools as those sitting in a common office. That seems to have changed with the products that Lua Technolgies have created. With no particular affiliation other than an eye for great ideas, I recently became fascinated with this company. Whether you have a team of travelling salespeople, workers in different cities or an army of staff spread out across a packed event, Lua provides the ability to make every employee as effective as if he or she were sitting at a desk. Within your work portal powered by Lua, you can make instant conference calls by tapping on co-workers profiles and easily attach files to messages or your work gallery. Additionally, Lua allows you to keep your digital work life completely separated from your digital personal life even when using the same mobile device. That alone is a game changer.
Graduated from TechStars NYC and recently procuring $7.5 million in funding, Lua is competing with big players like Salesforce.com and SharePoint. But those technologies have started out as desktop functions while Lua had mobile DNA from the outset. Most recently, its capabilities were on showcase at the NBA Draft that took place on June 26, 2014. The Barclay’s Center is a client and its mobile staff that helped coordinate the event, maintain the crowds and white glove service the dignitaries was equipped with Lua software.
A similar company built with the mobile workforce in mind but focused specifically on the construction and contracting industries is FieldLens. They have solved the numerous communication pitfalls of managing and engaging with a construction site. With FieldLens, the general contractor, designers, subcontractors, site owners and field workers all can stay connected on multiple levels through their smartphones, tablets and desktops.
Construction isn’t just about swinging a hammer. Design changes, blueprint updates, change orders are all examples of important items that need to be instantly communicated – sometimes visually – to any number of people on a site. Having just raised $8 million in capital, FieldLens built a solution that allows workers to evolve from the walkie talkie to having pertinent information instantly transmitted to a smartphone.
And when I see these new technologies from bright, innovative and hungry startups creating a better way to work and communicate – like the evolving license plates – I think, it just makes so much sense.
Marc Baskin is the co-founder of inControl Ads, a technology platform that puts consumers in control of their advertising experiences across all devices and screens. He has helped several start-ups go from just a few people, to public companies. Marc frequently writes pieces regarding the industry, as well as culture, history, and science.