10 Bayfront Avenue Singapore 018956, 1° 16' 58.253" N 103° 51' 39.344" E, and useful.tunes.notes. All point to the same address. But if you are like me, you will probably recall the last three-word address most easily.
Addresses are an interesting conundrum. They are a must for today's globalized trade. But they are never standardized and exhibit geographical and cultural nuances.
For example, Singapore has a postal code, yet it was an abandoned idea for Hong Kong (although China labels it 999077). Such differences make it difficult for global players to send, locate, or identify locations.
This is what GPS coordinates solve. And they did. But it had one problem: “They are not meant to be read by humans,” said Giles Rhys Jones, chief marketing officer at what3words.
what3words, a U.K. based startup, has found an alternative way. Fed up with non-standard postal addressing and hard-to-find addresses, its musician co-founder and chief executive officer, Chris Sheldrick, looked for a better way. So, he sat down with Mohan Ganesalingam with a dictionary. The result of the discourse was the creation of a new geocode system using three words.
what3words is not looking to replace GPS coordinates. “For computer-to-computer communications of coordinates, you do not need three words. But if there is a human, that is when you would use three words because of better memorability and avoiding human errors,” said Jones.
The way it works is simple. Earth is divided into 3m-by-3m squares. Three words pinpoint every square. Altogether, there are 57 trillion unique three-word combinations that point to specific addresses. So, Marina Bay Sands is located at useful.tunes.notes.
The sequence of the three words is unique and available in 36 languages. The algorithm takes into account words with similar spellings and keeps them far apart. So if there is an error, it will become evident from the start.
For example, table.chair.lamp points to Bundeena, New South Wales, Australia. tables.chair.lamp in Minnetonka Mills, Minnesota, U.S. And, table.chairs.lamp is at Stevenage, Herts., the U.K.
“So if you misspell, you will immediately know it is the wrong location. We built error detection as part of the design,” said Jones.
Logistics and transportation industries are the first to see the benefits. Delivery teams can send parcels to the right door of a building (if the building has several entrances). Automobile makers can now allow easy navigation via voice.
“For example, if you want to go to the right Church Road in London, you will need to navigate various options. With three words, you can immediately specify which location,” said Jones.
what3words wants to be the dominant player by democratizing street addresses. It is also taking a business-to-business-to-consumer route to get there.
Businesses can embed their code or work through their APIs with a lightweight 10MB proprietary algorithm. The small code size allows the algorithm to be embedded in mobile apps and work offline.
Interest is soaring. In Jan. 2018, Mercedes-Benz bought around 10% of the company. It also announced that the what3words will be supported by the car maker’s infotainment and navigation system.
In October of the same year, DB Schenker said it will be integrating the algorithm into its portal. Most recently, WM Motor, a leader in the Chinese electric passenger vehicle market, said it will incorporate the algorithm into its vehicle operating system.
“We are delighted to be incorporating what3words into our smart connected vehicles. We remain focused on the constant evolution of the user experience of our customers, by incorporating the best of technological innovation from China and the rest of the world. what3words's elegant addressing solution will provide an exciting enhancement to Living Engine's navigation system," said Freeman Shen, founder, chairman, and chief executive officer at WM Motor.
“The intention is to get everyone to talk about addresses in their own languages. We have gotten half the world population to do just that,” said Jones.
Now, what3words is looking to reach out to the other half.