What is What3Words? It Might Just Save Your Life

Apr 17, 2024 | Product

We are often asked at Road XS what is what3words?  Well, imagine being able to pinpoint any location on Earth with just three simple words.

What3words is revolutionizing the way we look at maps, transcending borders and language barriers.

If you haven’t heard of what3words or use it, then join us as we jump into what3words—an innovative addressing system changing the way we navigate the world.

Explain Simply What is what3words?

what is what3words and how does it work

what3words is a unique and innovative global addressing system that transforms the complexity of conventional geographical coordinates into a user-friendly format.

By dividing the world into a grid of 57 trillion 3-metre squares, what3words assigns each one a distinctive three-word address.

Unlike Google Maps or Apple Maps, which require more detailed inputs for exact location identification, what3words simplifies the process using a combination of words that are easier to remember and share.

This novel approach has rapidly gained popularity and is now leveraged by millions of people, including emergency services teams, who find the three-word addresses vastly more efficient for locating people in need of aid.

As a location app, what3words provides accurate location details, surpassing traditional street addresses in precision and convenience, particularly in remote locations where street names may be non-existent or less well-defined.

With the what3words app or even through a common search bar on their website, users can quickly determine their current location or find a precise location anywhere in the world by simply inputting a three-word address.

The system’s intelligent suggestions and ease of use make it a preferred tool for navigation, helping users navigate directly to a specified metre square with confidence.

An innovative addressing system

The what3words addressing system stands as a groundbreaking innovation against the backdrop of common navigation and location-sharing methods.

Traditional addresses or the complex strings of numbers used in systems like latitude and longitude can often be confusing or prone to mistakes.

By contrast, what3words addresses are uncomplicated, memorable, and unique.

Whether it’s for scheduling pickups with a taxi app, marking favourite locations, or detailing a proposal location, what3words ensures everyone can communicate an exact position with simple words.

Businesses and emergency response teams have found it particularly useful; courier services can make more accurate deliveries, and emergency services can deploy help to the precise location of distress.

what3words seamlessly integrates into existing apps and services via its API, expanding its use cases and accessibility. Whether through voice navigation on the road or public transport planning, what3words enhances users’ ability to convey and understand precise locations without ambiguity.

How it works

Understanding the functionality of what3words is straightforward.

The system has geocoded the entire planet into a series of 3-metre squares, each designated with a unique three-word address.

These words are drawn from a fixed vocabulary and are permanently associated with the respective square, ensuring consistency over time.

Users can access these three-word addresses using the what3words app, available on iOS and Android platforms, or via their website.

Upon opening the app or navigating to the website, entering the three-word code into the search bar immediately retrieves an accurate location pinpointing the specific 3-metre square one aims to identify.

This precise location is then convertible to traditional latitude and longitude coordinates via the what3words API, allowing for integration with other navigation platforms and mapping services.

The inherent sophistication of the what3words system lies in its algorithm, which intelligently allocates three distinct words to each square without revealing any discernible pattern to users, thus safeguarding against guesswork and maintaining the integrity and security of the geocoding mechanism.

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What3words is not just a navigation app; it’s a versatile communication tool that revolutionises the way we share our whereabouts – from pinpointing an emergency to meeting up at a vast music festival or finding a hidden street art piece.

The Need for Precise and Accurate Location

what3words precise location

In today’s fast-paced world, the need for precise and accurate location data is more critical than ever.

With the advent of what3words, individuals and organizations can pinpoint exact locations with unprecedented specificity. The application of this system extends far beyond convenience; it is a matter of safety and efficiency.

More than 85% of British emergency services have adopted what3words to swiftly locate those in need, especially in areas where traditional addresses are not useful or non-existent.

Imagine being lost or injured in a sprawling park, along a remote hiking trail, or in an area too new for updated maps—what3words can be the key to a fast rescue operation.

For businesses, especially those in logistics, e-commerce, and travel, what3words addresses boost operational efficiency by guiding drivers and couriers to the exact spots for pickups and drop-offs.

With an accuracy of a 3-metre square, what3words can direct parcels right to customers’ doorsteps — a level of service that Uber and other ride-sharing companies have also embraced for hassle-free ride ordering.

The push for precision speaks to a broader demand across multiple sectors.

Today’s society hinges upon the ability to share an accurate location quickly, whether it’s for emergency response or ensuring that a pizza delivery arrives hot and fresh at your garden party.

what3words uniquely meets this demand by transforming the complexity of geographic coordinates into something intuitive and actionable.

The Limitations of Traditional Addresses

While traditional addresses have served us well for centuries, they present notable limitations in our rapidly advancing world.

The traditional addressing system, unlike what3words, does not necessitate the adoption of a proprietary tool for navigation and is illustrated through easily recognizable markers like building numbers and street signs.

However, reliance on this ageing system can often lead to inefficiencies and even danger.

Traditional addresses may be hard to locate or not adequately reflect the precise location needed, leading to confusion and errors.

Unlike what3words, which offers a unique and non-repetitive addressing grid, similar-sounding or plural words in traditional addresses could result in miscommunication or delivery to an incorrect location.

With the current digital divide, not every individual might be versed in using apps, limiting access only to those who can and are willing to use the what3words system.

For some, the familiarity of traditional methods is preferable and provides inclusivity, as the system is accessible without the need for technology.

Importance in Emergency Situations

In critical situations where every second counts, the utility of what3words becomes even more apparent.

Emergency services find it to be an indispensable tool for accurately locating people in distress, particularly when they are in remote or hard-to-reach locations.

The system’s adoption by UK emergency services in 85% of cases underscores its effectiveness in aiding to save lives.

For the countless global citizens without a formal address, what3words can be literally lifesaving, whether for guiding emergency responders, allowing for consistent delivery, or enabling access to healthcare and other services, the three-word codes serve as a universal solution.

The system’s importance in emergencies is profound—it eliminates the ambiguities of describing a location, providing a clear target for emergency teams to reach people who need urgent help.

Benefits for Businesses and Delivery Services

what3words benefits to delivery

what3words is not just advantageous for emergency scenarios. It has become a critical component of business and service delivery logistics worldwide.

Domino’s Pizza and other companies use it to sharpen their delivery processes, ensuring that orders reach customers accurately, which in turn enhances satisfaction and loyalty.

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In India, BVG has integrated what3words with the Maharashtra government’s emergency medical ambulance service to quickly find and assist patients.

Major brands and service providers, including Hermes, Premier Inn, Uber, and Airbnb, have adopted what3words to enrich their customer experiences with pinpoint accuracy for deliveries and meetups.

Businesses appreciate the three-word address for its simplicity in facilitating efficient location sharing and asset tracking.

The broad adoption of what3words, as evidenced by its use in over 85% of UK emergency services, leading logistics companies, and automotive assistance groups like the AA, reflects the system’s value proposition. It transcends being merely a navigational tool; what3words is indispensable for companies striving to streamline operations and provide exceptional service in a competitive marketplace.

Exploring the Features of what3words

what3words features

what3words is a unique location technology that assigns every 3-meter square on Earth a distinct combination of three words: a what3words address.

Simplifying the traditionally complex coordinates, the what3words system is fixed and unchanging, using an algorithm protected by copyright.

Its mobile app and website offer an intuitive way to pinpoint precise spots, whether you’re planning an event, detailing an emergency location, or guiding a delivery to its destination.

The what3words app, available for free for individual users, is particularly user-friendly.

It enables people to find, share, and navigate to what3words addresses even offline. This means that even remote areas without internet access can be reached with the help of this cutting-edge technology.

For businesses that benefit from its precise location services, what3words offers commercial licenses, making it a valuable asset for a wide range of industries.

Integration with popular navigation apps

One of the most practical aspects of what3words is its seamless integration with many of today’s popular navigation apps.

Users can locate a what3words address in the app, and then transition effortlessly to apps like Google Maps to get turn-by-turn directions.

The app facilitates easy communication of specific locales by simply inputting the three-word address into a navigation app’s search bar — an ideal tool for navigation that bridges the gap between different platforms.

For desktop users, browser extensions for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox further streamline the process, allowing quick input of what3words addresses into the Google Maps search bar.

This level of compatibility reflects a commitment to making location sharing universally accessible and user-friendly.

Voice navigation with what3words

In situations where hands-free operation is essential, what3words supports voice navigation.

This feature enables users to communicate location information to devices or machines verbally, enhancing safety and convenience during travel and in moments when manual input isn’t possible.

Whether there’s a phone signal or not, the what3words app allows users to access their location and navigate using a compass mode, preventing loss of orientation in areas with limited connectivity.

Notably, the broad compatibility of the what3words system means you can speak a three-word address into your navigation app’s search bar or voice assistant, allowing for a smooth transition from address discovery to route guidance.

This voice capability positions what3words as an innovative tool for navigation adaptable to various scenarios and technologies.

Intelligent suggestions and favourites

what3words is not just a means of finding locations; it’s also an assistive tool in remembering and revisiting them.

The app offers intelligent suggestions — or AutoSuggest features — to help users find and save their favourite and most meaningful spots. Whether it’s the exact meter square where a couple got engaged, a specific location on public transport routes, or a precise entry point for emergency services, what3words ensures these places are stored and retrievable in just a few taps.

By enabling users to catalogue and share unique three-word addresses with ease, what3words supports a multitude of use cases.

Taxi apps, for instance, can drop passengers off at the exact entrance rather than the nearest street address. Users of Road XS already enjoy this feature to ensure passengers are picked up exactly where they need to be.

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Public transport users can locate specific stations and stop accurately, and businesses and hotels consistently rely on what3words to provide their customers with precise directions to their premises. Road XS DRT uses what3words to pinpoint virtual bus stops enabling passengers to navigate to their pickup easily.

The converging of intuitive location finding, ease of use, and integration with broader technology platforms make what3words an exceptional tool in the navigation and location services sector.

With three simple words, the world becomes an easier place to navigate, share, and enjoy.

The Impact of what3words

the impact of what3words

what3words has revolutionized the way we share locations by condensing the complex latitude and longitude system into a simple, memorable format.

This novel addressing system has made significant strides in enhancing safety and efficiency across the globe.

Emergency services have quickly adopted what3words as a lifesaving tool, allowing responders to pinpoint locations with unparalleled precision.

Not only limited to urgent scenarios but it’s also being integrated by:

  • leading logistics,
  • emergency response,
  • automotive vehicles,
  • ride-hailing,
  • and travel businesses to optimise operations and elevate customer experiences.

Instead of ambiguous traditional addresses that can lead to delays or even danger, what3words ensures that individuals can communicate their exact spots, especially crucial in emergencies.

Adding to its versatility, the what3words app supports over 50 languages and is functional offline, making it accessible for international travellers and those in connectivity-challenged areas.

Millions of people benefit from the system

Globally, millions are experiencing the benefits of what3words. In the UK alone, more than 85% of emergency services are using it to dispatch help accurately and swiftly, particularly in challenging locations.

From couriers to delivery drivers and big names like Uber, businesses are adopting what3words to streamline services and enhance customer satisfaction.

In emergency cases including car crashes and lost individuals, what3words has been critical in conveying precise locations and facilitating speedy rescues.

It has become an essential everyday tool, helping people find and share locations of picnics, and social gatherings, and even aiding students in locating their housing in new cities.

For businesses across various sectors, the daily use of what3words has become a staple for efficient location finding and delivery precision.

Adoption by emergency services and response teams

In the realm of emergency services, what3words has been a game-changer.

Adopted by a majority of British emergency teams, it’s recognized by key players such as the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade.

International stories of its impact include the Scottish Ambulance Service successfully coordinating with the coastguard to rescue an injured hillwalker in 2019, and Ambulance Tasmania’s 2020 bushwalker rescue.

Emergency services can employ what3words at no cost, further encouraged by the company’s media campaigns that highlight the application’s benefits.

Across the world, like in Australia, what3words has been seamlessly integrated with national emergency apps, meticulously crafted to support rapid emergency responses.

Partnerships with delivery companies and ride-hailing apps

The precision of what3words hasn’t gone unnoticed in the business sector.

Thousands of companies, from delivery services to ride-hailing apps, have integrated what3words to streamline their efficiencies and boost customer satisfaction.

The logistics, e-commerce, automotive, navigation, mobility, and travel industries appreciate how what3words refine operational effectiveness.

By indicating exact drop-off points, services are markedly improved, simplifying what was once the complex challenge of last-mile delivery.

Major industry leaders have woven what3words into their customer journey, offering more seamless experiences and setting a new standard for meeting customer expectations with pinpoint accuracy.

Understanding the what3words Addressing System

understanding what3words

what3words is an innovative global addressing system that simplifies location sharing by dividing the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares, each assigned a unique combination of three words.

These three-word addresses offer a precision that traditional street addresses can’t match. For instance, users can specify exact entrances or distinct parts of a large park, which are elements often not captured by standard street addresses.

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The immense value of what3words emerges in situations where someone needs to communicate their accurate location without the availability of visible landmarks or identifiable physical addresses.

Three-word addresses explained

Imagine breaking down the vast expanse of our planet into a checkerboard-like pattern of uniform squares, each measuring 3 meters by 3 meters.

Within these squares, the what3words system assigns a unique sequence of words, creating addresses like ///index.home.raft.

This innovation has made it possible to bypass the complexity of GPS coordinates while enhancing location accuracy.

Unlike complex longitude and latitude coordinates or postal codes that can cover large areas, the three-word system pinpoints locations with the reliability of a much more granular coordinate system, thereby transforming navigation, travel, and logistics.

The accuracy and reliability of what3words

Consistency and clarity are at the core of what3words, which bestows each 3m square with a fixed and permanent set of three unique words.

This ensures that regardless of new construction or changes to roads and buildings, the three-word addresses remain unchanged.

This accurate and reliable form of location identification is especially crucial in emergencies, where the ability to swiftly communicate specific locations could make a critical difference.

It’s this exact premise that has driven over 85% of UK emergency services to adopt what3words, recognizing its superior accuracy and reliability over traditional addressing systems.

Use cases for what3words addresses

The practical applications of what3words are diverse and far-reaching. Delivery companies can ensure that parcels reach the correct doorstep, as seen with Domino Pizza leveraging the system to deliver pizzas to the right location.

Emergency services across the world have adopted what3words in various instances, such as MEMS Dial 108 in Maharashtra, India, using it to reach people in need of medical assistance.

One of the key advantages of what3words is that it doesn’t require both parties to have the app, making it highly accessible—addresses can be easily communicated through other means, expanding the use cases to virtually anywhere people need to meet or goods need to be delivered.

This broad utility is echoed in the endorsement of what3words by global companies and organizations as a universal standard for location sharing.

How what3words is Used in Road XS

what3words integration road xs

Our customers use what3words within Road XS in several different ways.  These include:

  • For passenger and driver safety showing their location (in case of an accident),
  • Pinpointing locations for pickup and drop-offs,
  • Navigating drivers to where they need to be via the driver portal app,
  • Providing accurate mileage and time estimates.

The use of the technology also removes a lot of the fear around providing directions to drivers for passengers in rural locations.  They can simply navigate to where they need to be and use the additional location infromation from the transport teams if they need to.

During Covid, the what3words integration protected ambulance staff from attacks and meant the teams could communicate locations easily via radio.

What’s also great, is that sometimes Google Maps is not 100% accurate when it comes to things like new housing developments, or even their coverage on islands such as Guernsey.  The what3words integration allows us to maintain accuracy and handle any issues with routing and mapping should they arise.

It’s been a popular feature of Road XS for years and many have adopted the app in their daily lives too.

The Future of what3words

the future of what3words

The future of what3words seems poised for continued growth and integration into a myriad of services due to its simple yet powerful premise of dividing the world into 3-metre squares with unique three-word addresses.

As technology becomes increasingly interwoven with daily life, the need for an efficient and precise location system is undeniable, particularly given the ubiquity of smartphones with GPS and internet connectivity.

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While the app is proprietary, which might pose some limitations to universal accessibility, the technology’s value in improving location sharing is unequivocal, potentially changing the way businesses and public services operate.

Expansion into remote locations and developing countries

what3words has found its place in addressing the challenges faced in remote locations and developing countries, environments wherein traditional postal systems may lack precision or are altogether absent.

Mongolia’s postal service among others has adopted what3words to effectively revamp its addressing system and it’s not just countries, integration with luxury automotive brands like Mercedes Benz has empowered drivers to navigate to precise locations without traditional street addresses.

Its impact on emergency services is also noteworthy; by providing accurate location information, it assists responders in reaching people quickly, especially in hard-to-reach areas.

Importantly, global travel guides like Lonely Planet have adopted what3words, indicating its potential to become a staple for identifying points of interest across the globe, further promoting tourism and explorative convenience to even the most distant corners of our world.

Integrations with more platforms and services

An expansion of what3words into various platforms and services is fueled by providing an API that developers can harness, integrating this novel location system into their own applications.

This has led to broad adoption across sectors such as logistics, e-commerce, automotive, navigation, mobility, and travel. The system’s practicality extends from arranging precise meetup points for friends to specifying drop-off locations for ride-hailing apps and courier services.

The ability of the what3words app to work offline on both iOS and Android devices enhances its practicality for use in regions with unreliable data connections, thus ensuring its utility across diverse geographic and technological landscapes.

Advancements in emergency response with what3words

The utility of what3words in emergencies cannot be overstated, with over 85% of the UK’s emergency services incorporating it to locate individuals in crisis accurately.

Its integration is not confined to the UK; from the Metropolitan Police to the London Fire Brigade, and extending to international shores, emergency services have recognized the value in the precise location information what3words provides.

Notable use cases include aiding the Scottish Ambulance Service in rescuing an injured hillwalker and assisting Ambulance Tasmania in locating an injured bushwalker via a shared what3words address.

The Australian Government’s Emergency Plus App incorporating what3words is a clear indicator that this system is becoming integral to emergency response frameworks, potentially leading to a global standard for crisis situations.

What3words, a landmark innovation for navigation and location-sharing continues to spark change, bridging gaps between precise location pinpointing and accessibility, signifying its potential as a critical tool for the future.

Key Takeaways

The key themes to take away from our article on what is what3words are:

  • What3words is a location system that divides the world into a grid of 3-meter squares and assigns a unique three-word address to each square.
  • It has been integrated into various platforms and services, making it widely adopted across sectors such as logistics, e-commerce, automotive, and travel.
  • The app can work offline on iOS and Android devices, making it useful in regions with unreliable data connections.
  • One of the significant advancements with what3words is its use in emergency response. Over 85% of the UK’s emergency services utilize it to accurately locate individuals in crisis. It has also been adopted by emergency services internationally.
  • Notable use cases include aiding in rescuing injured individuals in Scotland and Tasmania.
  • The Australian Government’s Emergency Plus App incorporating what3words shows its potential to become a global standard in crisis situations.

Overall, what3words bridges the gap between precise location pinpointing and accessibility, making it a critical tool for the future.

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