What is the easiest way to locate a specific point on a map? It’s a question that is increasingly vital to many sectors of the economy, from your Amazon delivery driver (or drone operator) to the tourism industry. At its most extreme, the speed and ease of finding a location can be the difference between life and death for emergency services or aid agencies operating in densely-populated or remote regions.
In developed countries such as the UK, using addresses with specific postcodes simplifies such navigation. However in other parts of the world, it is not such an easy exercise – try finding your way to a specific address in Venice or to a remote part of Antarctica without resorting to map co-ordinates.
But a UK technology company, What3Words, now offers a simpler solution: a universal method for describing a location in any part of the world.
How does it work? What3Words has divided the globe into notional squares, each measuring 3 x 3 metres. There are 57 trillion squares in total, covering the whole of the surface of the earth, including all oceans, the Arctic and the Antarctic. Each square has been assigned a unique and fixed three word address. The three-word address will never change and you can’t request or purchase specific words. By using the What3Words app, you can use this three word address to identify a specific point on a map.
It takes around 38,500 words to generate unique three-word addresses for all 57 trillion squares. There are over 100,000 English words so the system cuts out offensive and complex words and homophones (eg see and sea). Addresses are intentionally randomised and unrelated to the squares around them, with similar addresses as far apart from each other as possible to avoid possible confusion (for example, the three-word address birds.dogs.pigs is in Minnesota, USA whereas grid.logs.twig is off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand). The system is currently available in 26 languages and the company is working on extending it to more.
Who uses it? According to the company, What3Words is now being used in over 170 countries by individuals, business and NGOs across a variety of industries. Current users include:
- The United Nations and Red Cross for disaster reporting and humanitarian aid projects.
- Emergency services and postal systems around the world.
- Drone operators to set destinations accurately, making drone deliveries and inspections more achievable.
- The tourism and hospitality industry to help customers navigate to specific locations.
- Asset managers to identify accurately items (such as lighting) or parts of buildings which require attention.