Have you ever been frustrated when your GPS sat-nav mapping function automatically disengages as you near your destination? Or it misses your intended address by a whole block? Not anymore.
What3words (w3w) has a surprisingly simple and efficient way to find an address and get you there. The London startup has divided the world into a grid pattern of 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares and given each one a unique 3-word address. It means anyone can accurately find any location and share it instantly, removing the ambiguity from the search process.
At the Frankfurt Motor Show this week, Mercedes Benz announced it would be integrating this radical new address system into a selection of its models from 2018. “The United Nations and the Red Cross use us in disaster zones, and now Mercedes has realized that there is a problem in the developed world with accurate mapping systems and they have employed our software,” says Giles Rhys Jones, w3w’s chief marketing officer.
“You will still get the same traditional sat-nav system that Mercedes uses. It’s just that now, you will have a choice of using the w3w system, which just lays over the top of existing systems, giving you its signature 3m x 3m grid pattern,” adds Rhys Jones.
It is really starting to catch on as people realize its effectiveness. We are being used for such functions as postal services in Mongolia and Nigeria. Every bus stop in Nigeria has a 3-word address.
The system will accept both voice recognition and typed in requests. In fact, it is the world’s first in-car 3-word address voice navigation system. You just say three words one after the other and the system automatically comprehends the commands and writes them with dots in between the words. So for example, search for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the 3-word address is cage.rocks.gladiators.
Where as an address with one letter different or added like cages.rocks.gladiators is located in California over 2700 miles away. Meanwhile, said quickly to the voice recognition software, it might misunderstand your museum request and offer you cage.rock.gladiators, which turns out to be in the U.K. The user instantly knows which address to choose just by looking at the location.
“This system is set up so that similar sounding addresses are far apart and can not get confused with your intended destination. It has an error detection and auto-suggest built in to help it differentiate words. We’ve also recorded lots of people saying words in different accents around the world to help train and tune the system,” says company CCO, Clare Jones.
It is really starting to catch on as people realize its effectiveness. We are being used for such functions as postal services in Mongolia and Nigeria. Every bus stop in Nigeria has a 3-word address. We are employed by the Glastonbury Music Festival for a first-aid emergency response because w3w can pinpoint a patient in a huge crowd. And the international delivery service Aramex has started using us across Africa and the Middle East because many addresses are so vague,” comments Rhys Jones. With all that success, no wonder Mercedes took them up.
The story behind w3w has the makings of a great sci-fi mystery novel. A talented musician frustrated with ambiguous addresses enlists the help of two mathematicians and together they stumble onto a new potentially global standard for mapping systems that could save lives.
Company co-founder and musician Chris Sheldrick identified the need for a better, more efficient addressing system after bands and musical equipment kept getting lost en route between gig locations due to vague addresses. In 2013, Sheldrick sat down with mathematician friends Jack
Waley-Cohen and Mohan Ganesalingam, and started brainstorming about how to create a more usable and reliable address system. After realizing that even watered down versions of 18-digit GPS coordinates were too complicated for most people to remember, they came up with the idea of a 3-word combination, devised a core algorithm, built their first-word list and created an app.
So why did these three pioneers decide on 57 trillion squares? Firstly, to divide the whole planet up into a 3×3 meter grid pattern, they needed 57 trillion squares. To be able to uniquely name these squares with 3-word phrases, they simply came up with 40,000 words and multiplied that number by three to get 64 trillion word combinations, a little more than the 57 trillion necessaries.
Now that Mercedes Benz has integrated w3w into their sat-nav system, other carmakers are knocking on their doors says Jones. “Yes, we are going to Japan soon for further discussions with carmakers over there,” says Jones. “And next year we will move into China, Japan, and Korea, but with a system devised in their own languages.”
Obviously, the team already covers the globe with their English 3-word phrases but will be creating versions in the local languages as they have in Mongolia and several other countries. “The challenging part is to find all of the words that cannot be used, words that have double meanings and swear words. We need to delete them from the creative process. We also focus on different accents too.”
The company has just 15 employees but plans to boost that number to around 30 people by the end of the year, as the system does not need much maintenance.
“Countries and carmakers are learning that by using us, they can dramatically improve their customer experience, improve their costs, and can save lives,” says Jones. “We are on a mission to become a global standard. And I think we’re well on the way.”
What3words provides billions of people with an accurate, easy-to-find address. However, they will not be able to use them for legal purposes like starting bank accounts, not until w3w is recognized by local authorities. And using what3words, no Mercedes Benz driver will ever get lost again.