It’s a bizarre notion for navigation – let’s get rid of street addresses. Instead, we’ll name everywhere on Earth with three words. In a voice-prompted world, street and suburb is apparently just not good enough.

“Traditional street addresses just were not built for voice input” says Chris Sheldrick, CEO and co-founder of what3words, which is based in London (that’s London, UK). “15 Ammanford Road and 50 Ammanford Road are hard for a voice system to distinguish between and many house names and road names aren’t unique. There are 14 different Church Roads in London, and 632 Juarez streets in Mexico City.”

So to avoid such duplication, what3words has named each and every three-metre square in the world (that’s 57 trillion of them) with three words from the English dictionary. So instead of telling someone where your business is located, you might tell them to come to index.home.raft.

Want to meet someone in the park outside Luna Park in St Kilda? That's a bit vague, so tell them you'll be at fats.half.ruler - you'll be within three metres of each other.

It seems a little WTF, but the system has just received a huge boost to its credibility with news that following Daimler’s partnership with the what3words team, Mercedes-Benz has now announced plans to be the first automotive manufacturer to launch in-vehicle 3-word-address navigation, including it in their next generation infotainment system launching in 2018.

While voice recognition is now highly advanced thanks to the massive library of voice samples being accumulated by the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple through their voice assistants, thereis a serious problem when it comes to voice recognition of addresses.

“Street addresses also use thousands of non-dictionary words,” explains Sheldrick, “and the pronunciation can be near impossible to guess. The town of Godmanchester is actually pronounced ‘Gumster’.”

We'll all have heard examples of current systems unable to pronounce place names. Australian Incar was recently  entertained by a Hertz GPS unit’s attempt to pronounce even simple place names like Christchurch and Cape Foulwind during a recent trip arounds New Zealand’s South Island. But would we have felt more confident telling the GPS to take us to reshape.fortress.silkworm, the what3words location for Cape Foundwind?

The company thinks so.

“Non-technical people can discover and understand a 3-word address more easily than a postcode or GPS coordinates”, says the company. “They can also share that address more quickly, more accurately and with less ambiguity than any other system.”

The satnav market must be the pot of gold for the system if it takes off, but the 3-word system is also seen as having applications in deliveries and logistics, postal services, and travel and tourism. It offers an easy definition of off-road locations which lack conventional street addresses, certainly easier than remembering or typing in full GPS coordinates.  

what3words

How does it work?
The what3words system uses a wordlist of up to 40,000 words, depending on the language version used. You don’t choose your own — we’d have too much fun defining our homes as pig.fart.mansion or similar. It’s all been predefined, with an algorithm sorting the list so that simpler and more common words are used in more populated areas, and longer words in unpopulated areas.

Similar sounding addresses are placed as far from each other as possible, with the words intentionally randomised and unrelated to the squares around them. The app even predicts for spelling errors and other typing mistakes, and will make suggestions, based on 3-word addresses nearby.

And in data terms, it’s very small to include in a sat-nav data package. The what3words system uses a mathematical algorithm, held in a package only around 12MB in size. As such, it will comfortably fit on a modern smartphone. It also means that you can search for a 3 word address online and offline, or where a data connection is unreliable.

Where do I live?
Head to map.what3words.com to navigate to your home and you can read the three words from the URL above. Should you some day be visiting Incar HQ, you’ll be pleased to find our car park entrance at limp.type.mops.