If you remember your grade school mathematics, you’ll recall that the product of two negatives is a positive.
So you might say St. Louis innovator Rachel Hankerson is simply carrying out a principle of math with the founding of her company International PROOF Systems.
Negative number one for Hankerson came in 1994. As a 21-year-old student commuting between her native St. Louis and Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, she found herself on the receiving end of a speeding ticket. Adding to the calamity, Hankerson also was ticketed for not being able to produce proof of auto insurance. She did have insurance, but was not in possession of the small proof of insurance card that policyholders must keep in their cars at all times.
“My parents in St. Louis had agreed to pay my insurance, but the card was sent to their home, not to my dorm, so I didn’t have the card. I thought, ‘there has to be a better process than this.’”
It was then that Hankerson came up with the concept of embedding that insurance information into a vehicle’s license plate. But, she says, she “tucked the idea into my little book of inventions.”
Until, that is, Hankerson experienced negative number two, in late 2010, when her employer announced it was outsourcing the company’s entire IT staff to India, and Hankerson was laid off.
“This,” she thought, “is the time to embark upon my invention.” In other words, take two negatives and make a positive.
Thus were born PROOF Smart Tags – computerized license plates that have embedded into them data that validates whether the car is insured and properly registered, and also allows the plate to serve as a location tool in an emergency.
Hankerson says insurance companies, police departments, state departments of revenue and consumers would be the beneficiaries of the technology.
Insurance companies, she says, would save millions of dollars currently spent on postage, envelopes and paper insurance cards that are issued under the current mail-based system. When a customer pays his premium, the insurance company representative would simply press a button, and proof of insurance information would be transmitted instantly to, and then displayed on, the license plate. A similar process would embed registration information into the plate, eliminating the need for annual license plate renewal “stickers.”
Consumers would benefit by not having to continually have handy, in their cars, those “proof of insurance” cards. And as for renewal stickers, Hankerson says, “I’ve been victimized by people peeling my registration stickers off my license plate – it happens quite often. Now there’s a better system for individuals who pay their registration but still get a ticket because somebody stole their registration tag.”
Police departments, says Hankerson, would benefit from technology that provides information about insurance and registration right on the license plate – information that can only be obtained now by having an officer get out of his car to directly speak to a motorist.
In addition, in the case of a crime involving an auto, for example a kidnapping or stolen vehicle case, the computerized plates would send a location signal to the police department.
Insurers, revenue departments and police departments would share in the cost of the technology. PROOF’s patent on the technology is pending.
This is a big month for Hankerson, who will pitch her technology later this month to the state of California, which is piloting an electronic license plate program to be completed by 2017. That contract would bring International PROOF Systems, $775 million in revenue. The company has been bootstrapped to date.