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Mercedes-Benz is the first automaker to incorporate what3words into its navigation-system programming. Speak the 3-word “address” and the system will direct the driver to that exact 3-square-meter place on the earth. (what3words)

Just say the words: what3words

If you’re standing in the middle of New York’s Rockefeller Center or on beachside road outside Cape Town, how do you tell a rideshare where to pick you up? Most places on our planet, from fields and beaches to parking lots, lack an address. And sometimes the number is on a front door that’s hard to find, or around the block.
Our current address system, developed in the 18th century for postal delivery, is frightfully imprecise.
A decade ago, this imprecision was causing problems for a British concert promoter named Chris Sheldrick. He struggled to tell delivery companies exactly where to drop off drums sets or to direct musicians from their hotel to the correct backstage door. Computers didn’t have this problem, Sheldrick knew. With geo-mapping, they could pinpoint any place on earth by its longitude-latitude coordinates—New York’s Statue of Liberty, for example, was 40.6892° N, 74.0445°. But try giving longitude and latitude coordinates to an acid-rock drummer and see if he gets to the show.
The trick, Shedrick saw, was to create a navigation system for the post-postal economy. This is the almost magical idea of What3words.
The company has mapped the world as a grid of 57 trillion squares. Each one is three square meters and each has its own “tag”—a combination of three words separated by periods. Astonishingly, the whole scheme requires just 38,000 words (less than a quarter of the 171,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary) to cover the entire planet.
And it’s blazingly precise. The torch of the Statue of Liberty, for example, is “toned.melt.ship.” in the what3words universe. The nearby cafe on the island is “puzzle.pies.ties, and the flagpole plaza is “corn.camps.spite.” In this scheme, every place on earth is many places, each with its own address.
What3words is positioning itself as the navigation app for the next phase of mobility—whether for locating dockless scooters in Santa Monica, summoning an flying drone taxi in Dubai, delivering food to famine victims in Yemen, even finding a parked car at Disney World.
The key, as in most digital technologies, is for the app to entrench itself as a standard. Already, the company has deployed the app in 26 languages. And what3words already has scored a production-vehicle coup with its installation on the 2018 Mercedes Benz A-Class, where it’s linked to the speech-enabled navigation system. Just say “Gosh.weds.lost,” and the vehicle navigation system will direct you to the centerfield gate at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
But in coming years, mapping will need to cover more than 57 trillion squares of global real estate. How to tell a drone, for example, to deliver dim sum to a 14th-story balcony in Hong Kong? “We’re looking at vertical,” says the company’s chief marketing officer, Giles Rys Jones. The challenge is to add a new dimension of complexity while staying true to the human-friendly formula—still, preferably, with just three words.
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