A new navigation system breaks up the earth into 3-meter squares

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

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

In an interview, What3words CEO Chris Sheldrick told Newsweek that the company fills the gaps where the traditional numerical address system has failed, working with that system as opposed to replacing it.

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

what3words location
The what3words navigation system can pinpoint your location within a single address, or a place with no address.

He also cited large business parks that can be labyrinthian to navigate or parts of the world where numerical addresses aren’t common, like Costa Rica. That, combined with his feeling that the current address system is antiquated, makes the case for more precise addresses.

“Addresses, postcodes and zip codes are legacy technologies that we’ve been sort of hacking,” he said. “They were invented a couple of centuries ago or longer for a very different purpose.”

Off-road navigation can also be made easier with the 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. “So you won’t be stuck in that awkward position where you’re trying to put in a destination and the car just says ‘connecting.'”

what3words skyline
It only takes about 40,000 words to break up the planet in 3×3 square meters.

The what3words technology is also important for the future of driving, Sheldrick said, when semi-autonomous or fully autonomous vehicles are more common. Having the means to tell a car where to go on a more precise level could reduce the amount of 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, you need about 40,000 words. Simpler words cover land, while the longest ones are cast out to sea.

“Once we do a language and cover the world in it, it’s done,” he said. “We don’t have the concern of running out of words. Sometimes we get close, but we’ve never run out yet.”

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) announced recently that it’s incorporating the location technology into its most recent vehicles, expanding the startup’s footprint in the U.S.

According to a What3words spokesperson, the company saw a 102-percent increase in U.S. monthly average users from April 2021 to April 2022.

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

“This world-changing technology is all about simplification, providing our customers with a seamless modern luxury experience that means they can find their way anywhere in the world without having to worry about connectivity,” Jaguar Land Rover Navigation Product Owner Mark Carter said in a press release. “The partnership with what3words, enabled by HERE Technologies, further highlights our world-leading SOTA capability which allows us to offer services that are always on and always connected.”

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

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