What3Words App Is Changing How We Map the Globe

By: Kristen Hall-Geisler

An app based on three-word addresses is making mapping and GPS more precise than we ever thought possible. What3Words

It sounds like the setup to a whole new version of the "Who's on first?" routine, but it's actually a totally cool system for finding any location on Earth using words instead of numbers. Wait, what? That was our thought too, but What3Words is a system that's divided the surface of the planet into 57 trillion 3-meter-by-3-meter (9-feet-by-9-feet) squares and automatically assigns each square its own three-word address.

The system uses about 40,000 words and is designed to function in any language. That means your front door and back door could theoretically have individual three-word addresses. Same goes for your garden shed and your dog house — even though they don't have a postal address.


You're probably wondering what possible advantage this might have over good old latitude and longitude, and those 123 Maple Drive-style postal addresses. Well, the goal is to make mapping more precise, not just for postal numbers, but also in-car navigation. And it does, because so much of the globe doesn't have postal addresses or is completely off the grid.

And that has caught the attention of major organizations like the United Nations and companies like Mercedes-Benz. The U.N.'s latest release of its crowd-sourcing app UN-ASIGN integrated What3Words as part of its georeferencing technology to help pinpoint the exact locations of damage like flooding and other major hazards to help with rapid response during major crises. That means all photos and reports uploaded to UN-ASIGN are now geo-tagged with three-word addresses.

Mercedes-Benz announced in January 2018 that it would be the first automotive manufacturer to use What3Words in the latest generation of its A-Class compact cars. When you know the three-word address of a place you need to go, you can simply speak or type it into the car's navigation system. Anyone who's had to type a complete street address into a car's nav system can see the advantage of only requiring three words.

While partnering with the U.N. and one of the largest automotive manufacturers in the world are big moves, What3Words has its sights on wider applications. Emergency services, for example, could navigate to particular locations that aren't necessarily on streets — like forest fires. Humanitarian aid could be delivered to places without proper addresses, like small, rural villages or refugee camps. Countries where segments of the population aren't connected to a grid of city streets, like Mongolia, have adopted the system for postal deliveries nationwide.

Having the world mapped into trillions of squares would also enable drones to deliver packages to your front or back door. Similar-sounding three-word addresses or those with only a letter or two different are deliberately placed far apart to limit the possibility that a package will end up in Seattle when it should have been delivered to Miami.

So curious how to find the three-letter address of your house? Of course you are. What3Words has an online map where you can determine the three-word combos for your favorite haunts — or any other locations. The White House, for example, is agreed.flash.brand. The Eiffel Tower is prices.slippery.traps. You can also download the app, for both iOS and Android, and use it while you're mobile for easy navigation. The only tough part about using it? More combinations of words to memorize.