When Chris Sheldrick found out that concert equipment was delivered to the northern part of Rome instead of the southern part, he knew something needed to change. The error occurred because of a mixed-up number in a complicated GPS location.
Location services for remote areas around the world were too complicated using these long chains of numbers, so he and Mohan Ganesalingam developed the idea for a new addressing system called What3Words. Today people are finding more revolutionary uses for the technology.
What is What3Words?
The What3Words system divides the globe into a grid with fifty-seven trillion squares measuring three meters on each side. It encodes geographic coordinates into three English words for each three-meter square. For example, the Alamo in Texas has a What3Words address of “lived.serves.slice.” Buckingham Palace in London is located at “fence.gross.bats”
What3words is different from most other locationencoding systems because they don’t rely on long strings of numbers or letters. Since What3Words uses recognizable words, there is a lower chance of making errors. In fact, the developers intentionally designed the algorithm so that similar sounding words would be far apart on the globe. If any inputting mistakes occur, it will be evident to the user.
It relies on a fixed algorithm and not a database containing every location on earth, so it works on devices with small storage capabilities and those with no Internet connection. The grid system is permanently fixed, so there is no need for updates to the code.
The system is now in twenty different languages, including some of the newest: Indonesian, Zulu, Japanese, Korean, and Hindi.
If you want to explore What3Words, they offer apps for iOS and Android as well as an API that converts latitude and longitude coordinates into their three-word address.
You can use the app to discover, search, and share a three-word address and to get directions.
When you open the app, it will locate your phone and give the three-word address for your current location. It’s more precise than Google Maps. For example, What3words gave me my exact location down to where I was in my house, but Google Maps said I was in between my driveway and the neighbors.
You can zoom in and move the pin around to see the three-word addresses as they change for every square.
To share your location, tap the “Share” button on the wordbar, and share it however you like. If you press the directions icon and choose a directions app, you can get directions to that location. There is no built-in navigation app. The system still relies on other apps for directions.
Uses for What3Words
Today what3words is already in use by organizations in underdeveloped countries. It makes it easier to deliver medical care to the sick and relief supplies to disaster areas. There are several countries such as Ivory Coast and Mongolia that are using the what3words address system for their mail deliveries.
Even if you live where street addresses are easily used, there are some uses for what3words that you may want to try.
Use what3words to share the precise delivery point for where you live or work. As drone deliveries become more common in the coming years, providing your What3words address will be more accurate. This system reduces the chance of it ending up at your neighbor’s house down the street because someone put in one wrong number on the address.
You can also use it to give locations. If your car is broken down on the road with no discernable landmarks, send the three-word address to a friend. They can use the What3words app to get directions to find you.
Send the three words to friends to organize a meeting spot, event, or festival that may not have an accurate street address. List the what3words address on the invitations or advertisements.
For travel, use the three-word addresses found on some travel brochures to find the exact locations of things like monuments or natural wonders.
When looking or more remote locations, use it in navigation apps like those found in some vehicles such as Mercedes-Benz. It will find locations that are off the beaten track with only three words.
You can even use the app 3wordphoto to record the precise location where you took a picture so that others can recreate the view.
What3Words does have its critics. They say that a private company should not control addresses because addresses are infrastructure. They believe that the What3Words team is using a closed, proprietary approach to mapping the world and trying to make themselves the standard.
The possibilities for a system like this are undoubtedly exciting to explore. Even if What3Words becomes a standard for addresses, it will probably be quite a while before it replaces traditional addressing. It may never do that. But remember, society considered adding numbers to houses revolutionary at one time.
Lastly, it could be a much better way to find your family member in the amusement park.