With your cell phone and Garmin in hand, and all the power of Google at your fingertips, not to mention the many satellites above you (36,000 km away), you’re still late for your meeting. We’ve all experienced that moment where our GPS has let us down by sending us to the wrong location due to an ambiguous address, or disconnecting when you are near your destination. A London start-up is managing to clear up those travel headaches and make getting from A to B easier.
What3Words is a geocoding system for the communication of locations with a resolution of three metres (to learn more have a look at this short video). To put that into perspective, the world has been divided up into a grid pattern of 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares and given each one a unique three-word address. The days of being at a loss for words trying to describe where you are is over.
The Faces Behind the Words
Company co-founder Chris Sheldrick identified a need for a better, more accurate mapping system, after so many headaches due to bands and their musical equipment getting lost en-route to gigs. In 2013, Sheldrick sat down with mathematician friends Jack Waley-Cohen and Mohan Ganesalingam to find solutions. After watering down the 18-digit GPS coordinates, they were still too complicated for most people to remember, so a 3-word combination, along with a core algorithm was devised. The first word list along with an application was then developed.
Although the application has been developed around English words (40,000 words to be exact that culminate into 64 trillion word combinations), Chris and the team are working towards developing the app further for different languages and countries.
Applications of W3W
The applications of w3w is far-reaching with many organisations, nations and companies beginning to adopt it.
- The Red Cross and United Nations have started to use w3w for aid and disaster relief.
- The Glastonbury Music Festival have teamed up with w3w to improve first-aid emergency response. With 135,000 music lovers attending in 2016, navigating crowds of that size can be a nightmare. Now it can be done with 3m x 3m accuracy.
- On that note, imagine not losing your friends at a music festival or live event ever again.
- International delivery service Aramex has started using the service for deliveries across Africa and the Middle East.
- Mercedes have integrated the mapping system in some of their models from 2018 onwards. The traditional sat-nav system is available, but now the w3w system will be laid over the existing mapping.
- Bus services in Nigeria are beginning to implement the 3-word addresses for bus stops.
W3W’s Biggest Contribution
Apart from the convenience of never getting lost again – including less swearing and cursing from A to B when you get lost – the w3w system has the potential to save lives. A cut-down in emergency response times and emergency services being able to reach the exact location where assistance is required (especially in remote locations) is perhaps w3w’s biggest contribution.