Iowa’s leading nation in creation of a new app


Jessica Kalahar/Iowa State Daily

The Department of Transportation in Iowa is working vigorously to become the first state in the U.S. to provide its citizens with a digital version of the driver’s license. 

Eric Wirth

Iowa is on the leading edge of technology in something that hasn’t really changed in years: driver’s licenses. Two weeks ago, the Iowa Department of Transportation began testing an app designed to house a digital, legal copy of a person’s driver’s license.

“So far, the testers are very excited,” said Andrea Henry, director of the Office of Strategic Communications for the department. 

The pilot program, which is being used to test user experience as well as address security concerns, consists of somewhere between 75 to 100 department employees, Henry said. The application is being tested on state-issued iPhones, but when the program goes live to the general public, will be available on both iOS and Android devices.

The pilot, which is scheduled to last 90 days, has gone rather smoothly so far, Henry said, adding that they’re early on in the process and are currently focusing on testing using faux data. The department is avoiding using information from its servers because the employees are manipulating data during the pilot to see how well the application responds to such inputs.

The Iowa DOT worked with MorphoTrust USA to develop the pilot app due in part to the fact that MorphoTrust is the current vendor for the plastic driver’s licenses that everyone is familiar with. For the pilot program, the partnership was really a no-brainer, Henry said. But once the department’s staff settles on exactly what security features they’d like to see in a live product, their vendor may change if MorphoTrust can’t deliver on the department’s needs.

Jenny Openshaw, vice president of state and local sales at MorphoTrust, said mobile driver’s licenses were the next logical step for their company, which is the vendor of driver’s licenses for many states.

“With the pilot we’re hoping to learn more about the mobile driver’s license’s security features and day-to-day usability,” Openshaw said.

The security features in question are not set in stone yet. Henry said many ideas are floating around concerning how someone can verify that they are in fact themselves when using the app, which, when live, will be in constant communication with Iowa DOT servers.

“Is it going to be you take a selfie and there’s facial recognition, a fingerprint?” Henry said in regard to viable ideas that have been offered.

After the security and usability kinks have been massaged out and a final app is in development, Henry said their next concern is communication.

The Iowa DOT has been in contact with law enforcement to let them know that the digital driver’s license is coming and that it’s something that they’ll soon encounter. Last week, in an attempt to bring light to the program, the department presented to a meeting of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators in Des Moines.

“We’re very excited to be the first in the nation to have the program in the testing phase,” Henry said.

After the pilot, both Henry and Openshaw said there’ll be careful consideration regarding the findings on usability and security, and Openshaw said there could even be another pilot internal to the DOT.

Iowa citizens don’t have too long to wait though to begin using the software. Henry said the Iowa DOT hopes to have something available to the public somewhere between 12 to 18 months from now.