GM app lets you scan a license plate, then text the driver

Even if the other driver hasn't signed up for the service, he can still receive messages

DETROIT -- Creating mobile car apps for China has its share of challenges, as John Du well knows.

Du, director of GM's China R&D Division, has to deal with a street address system that has no format, and with nearly a dozen language dialects, voice recognition technology takes on a whole new meaning.

Speaking at the Telematics Detroit 2014 conference here, Du revealed a mobile apps market that makes the U.S. pale in comparison.

When it comes to social networking apps, China has the equivalent of those in the West. There's Weibo, a microblogging service with more than 505 million users. Weichat is China's biggest messaging platform with a billion users. And, then there's Baidu's navigation app that has 300 million subscribers.

So with all those connected Chinese, Du figured why not an app that would allow them to simply scan a license plate in front of them in order to connect to the owner's cell phone.

The prototype app, called DiDi Plate, uses an Android phone's camera to scan the plate and send it to a cloud ID service. The driver who scanned the plate can then start texting the other driver.

"Even if the other driver didn't register this app, you can still give them greetings and comments," Du said.

DiDi Plate
After scanning the license plate of the woman in front of him, her profile pops up on his smartphone screen. The driver can then message the woman, asking her for a date.
DiDi Plate
Excited to be messaged by the man behind her, the female driver readily accepts the invitation.

In a video demonstrating the product, a male driver uses DiDi Plate to scan and then message a woman driving in front of him. He asks her for a date, which she quickly accepts.

In another scenario, a woman's car is blocked in a parking lot, so she scans the plate of the car that boxed her in and tells the driver to move the vehicle.

Other creative uses: Message people to tell them they're terrible drivers.

Du's team even adapted the app to work with Google Glass. Just stare at the plate and it scans it and brings up the persons online profile.

While in the U.S. the ACLU would likely have a field day with DiDi Plate, the legal quagmire in China may not be as quite a deep.

Du, however, said the main stumbling block in moving from prototype to production is that GM wants apps that are embedded in the car's infotainment system, so an app that exists only on as a smartphone download may never see the light of day.

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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