what3words: Addressing became Simple

To specify any given location to an accuracy of 3 meters using GPS coordinates, you need 16 digits, 2 characters, 2 decimal points, and a space or comma or a new line. That’s more than enough for the computers and mobile devices to locate coordinates when humans aren’t involved. However, when humans get involved for collecting coordinates and communicating them to each other, it’s a whole other thing. The coordinates are not so easy to remember and therefore human errors are expected. Then, what is the solution? There is and it’s a lot easy than having to remember difficult coordinates. What if you are given 3 words to remember a specific address? That would be awesome, wouldn’t it? what3words is the company that has developed this disruptive idea – a fixed global grid of 57 trillion 3 word addresses each referring to a 3m x 3m square. You don’t have to worry about new or changing street addresses. It is fixed already and will stay that way. And because the 3 word address system is fixed, and it’s impossible to change it, there is 100% certainty that all instances of the system running everywhere in the world will provide the same 3 word address for the same location.

3 word addresses are unique, unlike street names which are often duplicated, and they are easier to remember, use and share with others. Most alternatives also require each address to be created or generated, whilst 3 word addresses already exist for everywhere on earth, meaning they can be used immediately, without needing to be set up. Also, what3words system is based on an algorithm, rather than a database, so it works offline in regions where there is no connectivity. Compared to current street addressing systems, 3 word addresses are far more accurate, as they refer to a specific 3m x 3m square on the ground. They provide universal coverage, so can be used to communicate any location, not just a building.

The beginning of something incredible

Chris Sheldrick, Co-founder and CEO of what3words worked in the music industry – organizing live music events around the world. When bands and equipment constantly got lost trying to find venues and festival locations, it became clear that addressing just wasn’t good enough, and the problem was universal. He tried giving out GPS coordinates, but they were hard for people to input into their car or device, and near enough impossible to communicate correctly over the phone. Mistakes were easy to make and hard to pick up on until it was too late. So, he sat down with a friend to see if they could find a solution that was as accurate as coordinates, but concise and memorable too. Together, they devised a way to turn accurate GPS coordinates into user-friendly word combinations, and was born, the first 3 word address algorithm on the back of an envelope. Since then, what3words hasn’t looked back with over 1000 businesses, government agencies and NGOs across 170 countries now using 3 word addresses in sectors including automotive, e-commerce, logistics, mobility, travel, post and emergency services.

From large corporations to individuals, everyone is served

The long list of what3words’s varied customers include Mercedes-Benz, who recently launched the world’s first car with built-in what3words voice navigation. With this application, drivers are able to navigate anywhere in the world by saying three words to their car. The another global logistics giant, Aramex has integrated what3words to optimize its last mile operations in the Middle East, increasing efficiency by over 40%. Meanwhile, Domino’s Pizza are delivering food hotter and faster to 3 word addresses around the world. And numerous humanitarian partners are using the technology to help people in need. The United Nations has adopted the technology for disaster response and relief, in addition to the Red Cross. Future-facing companies have been quick to adopt what3words, such as IBM’s AccessibleOlli. The autonomous vehicle built for people with disabilities uses what3words to navigate passengers to precise destinations, increasing their ability to travel independently. Similarly, drone delivery companies, Hylio and DXC Technology are using 3 word addresses to help customers specify precise drop-off locations. Furthermore, not only companies, but individuals are also using the what3words app to navigate the world more easily and to meet friends in places without addresses such as parks, beaches or at crowded festivals. 3 word addresses are being used by running clubs to set meeting points, by off-roading fans in the deserts of the Middle East, and by hotels to guide guests to their entrance without complicated written directions.

The open and egalitarian culture at the core of transformation

What started in March 2013 with just three people has now turned into over 85 employees across the world and they are growing fast. The what3words team is a very special bunch of people. what3words hires people who stand out as creative, forward-thinking and driven individuals. With its open and egalitarian culture where anyone can add their ideas to a conversation, test a new product or suggest a marketing idea, no matter which team they are part of, what3words supports their knack for creativity and makes the most of their talents. “We also get together as a team to share activities and interests from outside work in our ‘Wednesday Lunch Series’. Talk subjects have ranged from ‘The semantics of lying and misleading’ from a member of our language team, to ‘Living on a narrow boat in London’ from one of our copywriters. It is good fun, helps us get to know each other, and sparks off interesting conversations,” explains Chris.

But to get here from where they started, it needed an energy into seeking out the right investors to bring the business credibility, contacts, experience, and knowledge as well as funding. And that’s what what3words did. They also invested heavily in language development from the outset, as this needed to be a globally accessible solution. Currently, what3words is available in over 25 languages, and this will soon increase to 28 including Chinese and Hindi. “When our 28th language launches, 3.8 billion people will be able to use 3 word addresses in their home language, which is 51% of the world,” Chris adds.

Celebrating the milestones and preparing for the next wave

Going ahead, what3words’s long-term goal is to be a global addressing standard, so everyone in the world has a simple, accurate and reliable address they can use whenever they need it. The what3words team want businesses, governments and services worldwide to use 3 word addresses to become more efficient, and improve their customer experience. At the same time, they look forward to showing how better addressing can reduce businesses’ environmental impact, ease pressure on crowded cities, fuel economic growth in developing nations and save lives.

“This year Mercedes-Benz have launched the world’s first car with built-in what3words voice navigation. It’s a huge achievement for us and we expect the next couple of years to see our technology integrated by lots more global brands of a similar caliber. On the product side, we have exciting new features for our core what3words app and also the newly launched 3WordPhoto app, as well as new products working with speech recognition and OCR technologies. We also expect to open more local offices to add to those we already operate in – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and Johannesburg, South Africa and the USA,” concludes Chris.

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