CES 2019: What3Words Standardizes, Simplifies Global Addressing

January 10, 2019 by Rick Stella, @RickStella

A London-based startup wants to change the way people think about GPS by providing a simple, three-word designation for all 197 million square miles of Earth’s surface.

Called what3words, the company divided the planet into individual 10-foot-by-10-foot squares. It then assigned each square its own address using a combination of three random words out of a standard dictionary.

The specificity of location also is significantly smaller compared with what traditional addresses represent.


For example, the tip of the Statue of Liberty’s torch is “runner.being.avoid,” while the front of its crown is classified “stroke.small.curiousity.” The brand showcased the tech, and its many potentials for use, in real time at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The GPS-like technology is available as a smartphone app and in web browsers. A voice input feature works like Siri, and offline access is available when cell service or data is not. Its offline feature is especially useful for backpackers or backcountry skiers, providing the ability to easily navigate to a trailhead or specific point in the mountains.

Its potential in the auto industry might be even bigger, considering one of the areas in which GPS is most widely used is in vehicles. What3words says its system can be uploaded into a car’s infotainment system by implementing a small piece of code. With this active, drivers are able to input a three-word destination and be directed to it.

What3words is compatible with many mapping apps, including Tom-Tom and Google. (Photo: What3words)


What3words is compatible with Mapbox, Google Maps, Esri Maps, OpenStreetMap and TomTom-based navigation systems. The app and browser allow for quick switching between map clients. New maps take only a few second to boot up and offer the same what3words functionality.

The company says the globe contains about 57 trillion squares, yet no two feature the same three-word name. What3words built parameters into the system to reduce mistakes.

It assigned adjacent squares unrelated words to avoid both user and app error when entering an address into the platform. No other square with the combination of move.trains.path – the location of a CES press table – or plural versions of those words can be found elsewhere in Nevada.

Similar-sounding words and combinations also are separated. This helps with user comprehension of an address and assists the voice command to accurately listen to and provide requested locations.


Outside of its uses in the outdoor and auto industries, what3words can also help with natural disasters, shipping packages to parts of the world without reliable addresses and to communicate location information in rural areas.

At the Rhino Refugee Camp in Arua, Uganda, for instance, what3words helped designate homes, mosques, food-distribution centers and hospitals for the 116,000-person settlement. Locals and volunteers were taught and given access to their three-word location and are now able to use it as their fixed address.

What3words partnered with the United Nations on a smartphone application called UN-ASIGN that collects data and crowdsourced photos in times of natural disasters or humanitarian crises.

The system is based on a mathematical algorithm packaged into a compact 20MB file so smartphones with any storage size can manage the app without forfeiting space.

What3words is available to download for free via the Apple App Store or Google Play and accessible online at what3words.com.

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