- Luke Johnson
- February 12, 2020
- Reading time:
- 8 minutes
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Have you ever walked out of store and forgotten where you parked your car? Or tried to find your friend in a sea of people at a concert? “what3words” is here to make that a thing of the past.
GPS is a miracle.
When I first started driving, finding my way to my destination was a nightmare. True story: I once drove right out of my city by accident. Three times, actually. Coming home from my shift at Mr. Sub, I'd have to make the choice: “Turn right or left on Victoria Avenue?” Somehow I kept getting it wrong.
But GPS changed all of that for navigationally-challenged people like me. In fact, GPS has changed the world for everyone — so much so that The Prince of Wales recently presented the Queen's Award to the team who first pioneered the technology.
Tools like Google Maps makes navigation a pretty simple matter these days. But there are still some challenges. For instance, Google Maps isn't very helpful if you are trying to find someone indoors, like in the throng of a busy mall, or if you're lost at a campground and are trying to hunt down your camp site. Any time you go off-road, map technology starts to let you down.
Find your destination with 10-foot precision
A few years ago, Chris Sheldrick was working in the music industry, and was tired of the all-too-frequent navigational mishaps. A band would call him to report, “We finished our sound check, but I'm pretty sure we're at the wrong wedding…” Or the musicians would show up at one place and the equipment at another.
Street signs and building numbers simply don't account for every location. Of course, longitude and latitude can pinpoint locations, but addresses like
51.520847, -0.19552100 aren't very memorable or human-friendly.
So Chris and a mathematician friend set out to change the way we interact with directions. They split the entire world into 3x3 meter squares, resulting in about 56 trillion squares. Then, they assigned a unique set of 3 words to every square. To do this, they put together an index of 40,000 individual words, which gives them 64 trillion combinations to work with.
Using this 3-word grid, it is possible to refer to every part of the Earth's surface (whether land or water) by its 3-word address. Their grid system sits atop Google Maps so that you can find the general location where you are headed, but then isolate a precise grid location.
For instance, if you wanted to meet your friends in front of Moose Jaw's big “Mac the Moose” statue, you can point them simply to duvets.craziness.puzzles.
Simplifying the search for homes and humans
On account of its practicality and ease of use, what3words has been gaining momentum all over the world. In the UK, people are encouraged to share their what3words locations when calling emergency services so that rescue teams can find them more quickly.
Just think about that: If you break your leg deep in the woods or on the ledge of a cliff somewhere, a 3-word address will lead a rescue team to within 10 feet of your location — much more efficient than trying to follow rough verbal directions. And in an emergency situation, that saved time might be the difference between life and death.
In some areas of Africa, mail delivery has bypassed conventional addresses completely and gone straight to 3-word addresses. With what3words signs, mail carriers and health workers can find homes even on uncharted roads or countryside. Much more efficient than postal codes.
It's easy to see how what3words' system could benefit other applications, such as delivery apps, tours of museums, campuses, or farms, or anything involving geolocation.
Some 3-worded fun
Besides its usefulness, the index of 40,000 words makes for some enjoyable combinations. For instance:
If you decide to visit.Middle.Earth, make sure you avoid.dragon.fire when you pay your respects to the King.Under.Mountain. Or maybe.another.day you could go through spare.room.wardrobe and meet the Good.Lion.Himself at a Stone.Table.gathering.
Or jump on a nimble.broom.stick and go take a wizard.wand.quiz at the hidden.magic.castle. Hogwartz isn't the kind of place to hide.from.danger, but just be sure you don't open.locked.doors or you might find yourself in the grips of a sinister.lurking.serpent.
If worse.becomes.worse, just think.happy.thoughts, and with some assistance from a tiny.little.fairy, fly away to Never.Never.Land where there is nothing to worry about but the old codfish.Captain.Hook.
But if all of that sounds like too much bother, just.stay.home, grab a fresh.baked.pizza (the kind with good.mouth.feel), and watch.Star.Trek. After all, you only.live.once. (Or twice if you're Double.OweS.even.)
Ready to give it a try?
Signing off from lovely.chins.cynical.