A new navigation system divides the Earth into 3-meter squares


What3words, a British startup, has mapped the world in 3 by 3 meter squares, assigning each square a random combination of three words that can be typed into GPS-enabled search engines.

A square on the street in front of the White House, for example, is called trader.answer.notice. In Los Angeles, on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and S Fairfax Avenue where the Petersen Automotive Museum is located, one of the squares reads chance.remote.offer.

In an interview Chris Sheldrick, CEO of What3words said Newsweek that the company fills in the gaps where the traditional numeric address system has failed, by working with that system instead of replacing it.

“There are so many places where the addresses don’t arrive,” he explained. “For example, I live in a village where everyone has a shared house name and postcode. So for a lot of people, they have navigation issues trying to find their house.”

The what3words navigation system can locate your location with a single address or a place without an address.

He also cited large business parks that can be labyrinthine to navigate or parts of the world where digital addresses are not common, such as Costa Rica. This, combined with his feeling that the current address system is outdated, argues for more accurate addresses.

“Addresses, ZIP codes, and postcodes are legacy technologies that we kind of hacked away,” he said. “They were invented centuries or more ago for a very different purpose.”

Off-road navigation can also be made easier through technology, with the ability to use your three words without a network connection.

“Because our algorithm is very small, about five megabytes, it can live inside the car,” he said. “That way you won’t be stuck in that awkward position where you’re trying to set a destination and the car just says ‘connect’.”

horizon what3words
It only takes about 40,000 words to break down the planet into 3×3 square meters.

what3words technology is also important for the future of driving, Sheldrick said, when semi-autonomous or fully autonomous vehicles will be more common. Having the means to tell a car where to go on a more precise level could reduce the time a car spends looking for the correct destination.

Besides English, the team has developed what3words to work in 50 other languages. He says that to cover the Earth in 3×3 meter squares takes about 40,000 words. The simplest words cover the earth, while the longest ones are thrown into the sea.

“Once we’ve created a language and covered the world, it’s done,” he said. “We don’t worry about running out of words. Sometimes we get closer, but we’re never short yet.”

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) recently announced that it is integrating location-based technology into its newest vehicles, expanding the startup’s footprint in the United States.

According to a What3words spokesperson, the company saw a 102% increase in average monthly users in the US from April 2021 to April 2022.

An over-the-air (SOTA) software update will add the technology to JLR vehicles equipped with the Pivi Pro infotainment system.

“This world-changing technology is all about simplification, giving our customers a seamless, modern luxury experience that means they can find their way anywhere in the world without having to worry about connectivity,” said Mark Carter, product owner Jaguar Land Rover Navigation. Press release. “The partnership with what3words, made possible by HERE Technologies, further highlights our world-leading SOTA capability that enables us to offer always-on, always-connected services.

What3words technology is already present in American vehicles from Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru, Lotus, Lamborghini and Mitsubishi.


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