Has your GPS ever missed your destination by several blocks or driven you onto a deserted beach? Now, there's a better and more reliable way. It's called a what3words system.
What3words (w3w) is an incredibly simple system that identifies the precise locations of addresses and navigates you to them. It works like the more common GPS but is more accurate and can pinpoint locations that don't have street addresses.
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What Is What3words?
What3words divides the world into a grid pattern with 57 trillion 3 meter squares and identifies each one with a unique three-word address. The location system can pinpoint locations that don't have street addresses, postal services or postcodes.
What3words was developed in 2014 by a British musician who got frustrated by continuously losing his equipment between concerts because of failures of existing GPS. Chris Sheldrick, the musician, got together with several mathematician friends and they came up with the idea of creating an algorithm using the three-word system.
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What3words makes money by licensing their app and application programming interface (API) to businesses that use a process known as geocoding to convert what3words addresses to latitude and longitude coordinates.
How Does What3words Work?
What3words uses words rather than GPS coordinates with strings of numbers, such as the numbers for latitude and longitude, or letters used by other GPS. The three-word combinations are easier to remember than the 16 number coordinates for latitude and longitude.
For example, the three-word address of the front door of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is cage.rocks.gladiators. The front door of CNET is located at decreased.mime.crab, but if you were delivering packages, you'd go to the loading dock at epic.noses.upgrading.
There are over 40,000 words in the w3w database, which gives it the capability of creating up to 64 trillion unique three-word combinations. The entire system can be downloaded for use offline. No cell phone signal or data service is needed, and it responds to both voice commands and typed-in requests.
The w3w system doesn't replace your current GPS, but rather acts as an overlay to existing navigation apps. You could type in a friend's three-word location into your Waze or Google Maps and get the directions to them.
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Where Is What3words Being Used?
What3words is being used to direct emergency services during disasters. One example is when a group of hikers got lost in a forest and England. The hikers called the emergency number and the responder told them to download the what3words app on their cell phone and let them know their precise location. The hikers reported the three-word address for their current location was "kicked.converged.soccer," and the rescue team was able to pinpoint their exact location within minutes.
In 2017, the Mexican government used w3w to direct the emergency rescue teams after an earthquake. And Haiti used w3w for rapid response teams after Hurricane Matthew.
Another application is for drone deliveries. Although a home usually only has one street address, it could have multiple doors. You might want your packages delivered to the back porch instead of the front. W3w gives you those multiple options.
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How Does What3words Make Money?
It's free for iOS and Android devices. The company wants people to share their app with friends and to use it for everyday navigating tasks.
What3words makes money by licensing their app and application programming interface (API) to businesses that use a process known as geocoding to convert what3words addresses to latitude and longitude coordinates. Ride-hailing services, such as Uber, would be an example of a business that would use this service.
- CNET: How What3words Pinpoints Every Spot on Earth for Better Navigation
- Medium.com: How Does What3words Make Money?
- Popular Mechanics: These Guys Mapped Out Every 3-Meter Square on Earth with a Unique Three-Word Phrase
- Forbes: This Geo-Mapping Startup Could Save Your Life In A Crisis
- Forbes: Ford Adopts What3Words Support To Ease Navigation Woes