What3words: A Simplified and Possible Lifesaving Location App

location app, what3words, smartphone app
Credit: what3words.com

The smartphone app, what3words, can pinpoint a location using three randomly assigned words. The developers of the app divided the world into 57 trillion squares, each square measuring 10ft by 10ft (3m by 3m). Every square was then assigned its own three-word address.

For example, the three-word address for Mount Shasta’s summit is clued.speakers.amount.

Mount Shasta, summit, location
Screenshot of Mount Shasta’s three-word address on what3words smartphone app.

The app is already being used in several countries, and many law enforcement officers are urging people to download it on their smartphones. 

On Aug. 11, a group of friends in County Durham in the UK used the app after getting lost in the woods for several hours. After finding a spot with cell service, the group was able to contact the police. They were told to download the what3words app in order to pinpoint their location.

Kicked. Converged. Soccer. This was the three-word address associated with the group’s location. Within minutes of contacting the police, the group’s location was known. They were quickly found by the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team.

ted talk, smartphone app
Credit: what3words.com

Chris Sheldrick, one of the founders of the app, first came up with the idea when he worked in the music industry. In a Ted Talk given in 2017, Sheldrick mentioned how difficult it was to find the correct address of a gig. He was determined to find a simpler way to find a location, other than sharing long number sequences of longitude and latitude coordinates.

Sheldrick also mentioned that several countries such as Durban, Mongolia, and the Carribean have adopted what3words as a new address system. These countries along with several others do not have a working address system in place. Most of the buildings do not have any kind of numbered address, and the ones that do are unfinished, inaccurate or have simply faded away. The UN has also used the app for natural disasters in order to “deliver aid to exactly the right place.”