The license plate of tomorrow

TÖNNJES, Kathrein and NXP enable electronic identification of vehicles

  • Electronic Vehicle Identification (EVI) paves the way for the digitalization of vehicle identification
  • Versatile applications: traffic management, toll systems and theft prevention
  • RFID license plates and vignettes already in use worldwide
  • New technology for marking motorized two-wheelers

Delmenhorst, April 2021.

The German license plate manufacturer TÖNNJES pursues the goal of giving vehicles worldwide a unique identity. In cooperation with the global semiconductor company NXP and the Bavarian company for AutoID solutions, Kathrein Solutions GmbH, it develops and produces license plates and vignettes based on RAIN RFID technology – Electronic Vehicle Identification, or EVI for short. Cars, trucks and motorcycles can be identified contactlessly and in moving traffic by authorized readers. The innovative technology has overtaken the previous method of optical detection with the naked eye or by camera. And opens up new, digital possibilities for the transportation and mobility of tomorrow.

Bigger cities, more cars

Shenzhen is a so-called megacity in the south of China. The metropolis, which is home to twelve million people, is located directly on the border with Hong Kong. The population is set to grow by a further 17 percent by 2030 – significantly faster than any other major city in the East Asian region. Where only 30,000 people lived around 40 years ago, there are now 3.5 million cars on the roads. With over 500 cars per kilometer of road, Shenzhen has the highest car density in China. The logical consequence: traffic jams bring public life to a virtual standstill. For this reason, the city is working intensively on an intelligent traffic management system. Although AI-controlled traffic lights extend the range of action available to the authorities, a definitive solution for the traffic masses is not yet in sight.

EVI can revolutionize transport

“The world’s population is growing continuously. It’s not just megacities with more than ten million inhabitants that have to come up with alternative solutions for complex and modern traffic management, but sooner or later all major cities,” says Jochen Betz, Managing Director of TÖNNJES. “We believe that electronic vehicle identification, or EVI, is the basis for smart city applications, as it enables efficient and modern identification processes.” RAIN RFID technology enables wireless communication between vehicle license plates on one side and authorized readers on the other. In addition to targeted traffic management, EVI also has the potential to revolutionize access control and toll systems, implement low emission zones, modernize payment processes in the area of bridge or ferry crossings and provide long-term protection against vehicle theft or license plate forgery.

For some years now, TÖNNJES has not only been a successful producer of license plates, but has also played a leading role in the development of software and hardware that form the basis for electronic vehicle identification. In cooperation with the Bavarian RAIN RFID hardware manufacturer, Kathrein Solutions, and the global semiconductor company, NXP, TÖNNJES produces the RFID license plate IDePLATE and the windscreen sticker IDeSTIX. The technology has already proven itself in various countries in different areas of application. The Arabian oil production company Saudi Aramco, for example, uses the IDeSTIX for access control on its premises. And in the Philippines, scooters and motorcycles are equipped with the IDeSTIX Headlamp Tag from TÖNNJES – an RFID vignette for the headlamp. “Especially in Asia, scooters and motorcycles are an extremely popular means of transportation. The IDeSTIX headlamp tag is an efficient and reliable method of registering and identifying all these vehicles,” explains Betz.

Flexible and user-friendly: passive chips work in stationary and moving traffic

Both the counterfeit-proof license plates and the stickers, which self-destruct when removed, are equipped with a specially manufactured, passive RAIN RFID chip, the UcodeDNA® from NXP. This transmits data over several meters in a contactless and secure manner. The chip contains an encrypted, unique identification number that can be deciphered by authorized readers in stationary and moving traffic. “Every country should strive for nationwide registration of all vehicles, as it guarantees security and transparency. Once vehicles are registered with passive UHF RFID transponders, this technology can also be used for other applications such as tolling, road charging, parking, refueling and access control,” explains Christian Schnebinger, Deputy Sales Officer at Kathrein. “Passive UHF RFID is a global standard. This creates flexibility and is user-friendly at the same time. This is because the battery-free transponders eliminate the need for any maintenance,” he adds.

The fact that electronic vehicle recognition will continue to gain in importance in the future is not only demonstrated by the close cooperation between the three market leaders. Current statistics from the German Federal Office for Goods Transport (BAG) also underline the importance of EVI when looking at the highways. The volume of road transport in Germany alone is expected to reach almost four billion tons by 2023. By comparison, ten years ago the figure was only 3.4 billion tons. According to the FOPH, the coronavirus pandemic is also having a direct impact on truck mileage. This has risen by 5.5 percent in Germany since the start of the pandemic – presumably due to the increase in delivery traffic.

RFID technology is the key to digitalization

“With our technology and combined expertise, we are helping to ensure that authorities and registration offices will be able to work much more efficiently in the future,” explains Ralf Kodritsch at NXP. In his opinion, the use of RFID-based technologies also forms the ideal basis for digitizing the entire area of vehicle identification comprehensively and promptly. “The discussion is often about essential key areas such as public safety or theft prevention, which are a high priority in our considerations. But the end consumer could also benefit noticeably – for example, if we think of automatic access controls when parking or automated processes when refueling by reading the RFID license plate,” says Kodritsch. In addition, electronic recording could represent a significant improvement on the status quo against the backdrop of “urgently needed” digitization. Until now, visibility and weather conditions have played a decisive role in optical detection and have significantly reduced the detection rate of speeding, for example.

A global network

TÖNNJES operates internationally. And not as an exporter of products, but of infrastructure, machinery and know-how. Around the globe, the company from northern Germany is involved in over 50 locations with local joint ventures to produce and personalize vehicle license plates locally. The company supports the respective authorities from the implementation of a central registration system to the development of innovative and customized solutions for the identification of vehicles. More and more countries are showing interest in electronic vehicle identification. “We have noticed that solutions are now in demand that not only function reliably, but also meet the requirements of a digitalized society – we can do both,” says Jochen Betz.