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A free app converts navigation points into simple three word codes

You may not know it, but the piece of real estate you’re sitting in has a unique three-word code, developed for a free app called ‘what3words’. That code can be input into a navigation device or mobile phone, allowing a delivery to be made, without the driver’s need for a detailed address and access instructions.

We all know the difficulty of finding some addresses: the site may be huge, with several driveways and a driver can waste time trying different approaches. Because the what3words grid of the entire world is made up of three-metre by three-metre squares, each with its own combination of three words, it’s possible to define any point
to a nine-square-metre plot.

Our photo shows a campsite location and its three-word code, in the trackless waste of the Tanami Desert, to which anyone could navigate.

So, instead of complicated addresses or longitude and latitude ‘fixes’, each destination is identified by its three-word code. The driver inputs that code into the search bar of the what3words app and the navigation system shows and tells where to go.

Alternatively, the address can be input, if the code
isn’t known.

Either search results in a map display that can be inspected for best access and the red cursor moved over that particular grid square. The relevant three-word code is highlighted and when the go-to arrow is pressed the route instructions are displayed.

Because the exact access point is now the ‘address’ not just a general area that may encompass hectares, the driver is led to the ideal, nine-square-metre entry point.

The what3words concept is simply brilliant, but it must have been a mammoth task to set it up. The entire globe, including the oceans, has been grid-mapped into 57 trillion squares. All those squares have English names and English is the universal search and rescue language, meaning that an ocean location is easy to find by emergency authorities. The land-mass squares are named in 26 languages, as well as in English.

The what3words system uses a proprietary algorithm in combination with a limited database, meaning that the core technology is contained within a file around 10MB in size.

As the system relies on a fixed algorithm, not a large database of every location on earth, it works on devices with limited storage and no internet connection. The encoding is permanently fixed and unchangeable.

We’ve been testing the what3words app around Melbourne and Sydney and we love it. We’ll check it out in the bush later in 2020.




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