This App Gives Everyone an Address and Helps Save Lives

What3Words can pinpoint any location in the world.

Jun 20, 2021
This App Gives Everyone an Address and Helps Save Lives | What3Words can pinpoint any location in the world.

Some people live in houses on streets with house numbers, or an apartment in a high rise in the sky, and some people live in Mongolian yurts in the highlands completely off the grid. It doesn’t matter where you live, what3words has got you covered.

The people who make this app believe that everyone should have an address for every location, including parks, stadiums, and yurts, no matter where you are in the world. That’s why they set out to map the globe in 3m squares and gave each one a unique combination of three words. There are 57 trillion squares that work like a GPS with words instead of numbers.

This three-word grid has saved countless lives since it was founded in 2013 according to Positive News. In fact, the app saved a group of tourists who were stranded on Ben Nevis in Scotland after a blinding blizzard hit.

They weren’t dressed for the weather conditions and didn’t have a map. What they did have were the words: “Tortoises, Swarm, and Announce,” according to Positive News and it led the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team directly to them.

While most people aren’t lost in the wilderness, there are plenty of other uses for this lifesaving app. Did you ever have trouble finding a street address because the house is facing the wrong way, or finding the right gate at the football stadium? Knowing exact locations will help you get food deliveries quicker and help ambulance drivers get to car crash victims in real time.

The app is the brainchild of the West London company founder Chris Sheldrick who grew up in a rural area according to the BBC, due to the postal delivery problems his family experienced when he was growing up. “Our postcode did not point to our house,” he told BBC. “We got used to getting post meant for other people, or having to stand in the road to flag down delivery drivers.”

Then, 10 years in the music industry also vexed him because people couldn’t always find the venues he was playing at. That’s when he started thinking about how to pin point locations. He tried longitude and latitude and then considered numbers but soon found he had enough combinations from turning numbers into words for every location in the world.

But, not having any address at all is even worse. Native Americans living on reservations are unable to register births, marriages, or even to vote if they do not have a recognized address, according to Positive News.

What3Words is now available in 47 languages, from Arabic to Mongolian. In fact, Mongolia’s postal service is the first one to adopt the word-based addressing system to complement its current system.

The app is being used by some of the largest brands, Giles Rhys Jones, chief marketing officer at what3Words told Positive News. Global car makers like Mercedes-Benz  and Ford Motor Company use it in their navigation systems. While people can download and use it for free, commercial users are charged a fee.

The app makers were so sure that the app will save lives – and it has – that they made it available free of charge for charities, development agencies, and emergency rescue services. The United Nations integrated the solution into its disaster response tracking system so that medical aid can arrive at the correct shelter in refugee camps.

The founders admit that the app has some limitations, especially if someone speaks with a strong accent or if English is not their first language. The other limitation is that some people see it as only a rescue tool and not something they can use every day.

So, use the app to find the handicapped entrance to the British Museum, or the Magical Menagerie on Diagon Alley (in Universal Orlando) and not just when you are lost on Ben Nevis.
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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.