Smartphones are pretty much everywhere these days, packed with apps designed to make everyday life more fun, more productive or just plain easier. Finland's Transport Safety Agency, Trafi, is looking to tap into this ubiquitous nature so that drivers no longer need to carry a plastic driving permit, instead using a digital version accessed from within an app.

As in other countries, the driving permit in Finland not only shows that its owner is qualified to drive a vehicle, but can also serve as a means of identification, in a similar way to presenting a passport or identity card. But physical driving permits are rarely updated during their 30 year lifespans, which can be a problem if the photo on the plastic card no longer resembles its owner and the information is way out of date.

Sweden's HiQ and Finland's Great Apes have helped develop a prototype mobile system that can be automatically updated with the latest available photograph from agencies such as the police or passport control, given the latest driver status and vehicle info, and have penalty notices added instantly.

Niko Sipilä from Great Apes told us that after downloading the Autoilija iOS app (an Android app is in development), the user is identified using information stored on a nationally-controlled database of Finnish citizens (that's also used for other online government services).

Upon identity confirmation, the driving permit information is retrieved from a secure Trafi server, and combined with the latest available photograph from another government server. The user can then assign a 4-digit passcode to enter the app, or make use of touch/face ID, to ensure that no-one can access the Digital Driving License (DDL).

The prototype system includes a number of anti-fraud security measures. The background of the digital license watermark within the app is linked to the gyro of the host phone and animates aspects such as the Trafi logo as it's moved around. The touchscreen of the smartphone can be used to interact with the digital permit image, which dynamically alters the hologram-like background when touched.

This visual level security can be instantly changed and pushed to the app in the event of a detected breach. The information and photo displayed on the permit will always be the most up to date available from the Finnish authorities and, like a physical license, the DDL includes a unique barcode. The system also makes use of a temporary QR code that's generated from the Trafi backend to help ensure that the user is not using a fake app.

Information other than driver identity will be available through the app, too, including vehicle registration information, engine data and inspection details, and vehicle taxation information. And new drivers, or those adding more vehicle categories to an existing license, are expected to benefit most from the instant availability of the digital permit, compared to the current system where citizens have to wait up to 3 weeks for a physical license to be issued.

Since the EU rules don't currently recognize a digital license as a valid driving permit, the DDL system is currently undergoing a limited beta trial in Finland only, and is complimenting – rather than completely replacing – a driver's physical permit.

Trafi is in approval talks with companies and authorities and it is hoped that, pending a successful outcome, drivers will be given the option to obtain a physical permit or go wholly digital. The video below shows the DDL system in action.

Sources: HiQ, Great Apes, Trafi

View gallery - 2 images