what3words has developed a unique and precise addressing system to cover every corner of the planet. Pamela Whitby catches up with the winners of last year’s EyeforTravel Start-Up & Innovation in Travel awards

If autonomous cars and urban flying taxis are coming and ‘speech recognition’ truly is going to change the way we search, then could what3words be the next big thing - the next Google, Facebook or Amazon?

“When you are in a vehicle that has no steering wheel or pedals it is incredibly important that you can easily specify precisely where you want to go. You have got to have an address system that is built for voice,” says Giles Rhys-Jones, the chief marketing officer of what3words, the winner of EyeforTravel’s Start-Up & Innovation in Travel Awards in Europe last year. 

what3words, which has divided the entire world into 57-trillion 3x3 metre squares, and given each square a unique 3-word address is already being used in autonomous vehicles and numerous other navigation systems. 

In autonomous vehicles ‘you have got to have an address system that is built for voice’

Another futuristic transport use case, however, could be for the urban flying taxi that Uber is hoping to get off the ground by 2023. Last week, at the Uber Elevate conference in Los Angeles, the ride-sharing firm announced a partnership with Nasa, the US aeronautics agency, and outlined its plan for short-range electric aircraft. A precise and reliable 3-word address could prove handy for those navigating to the proposed new-age landing pads. 

what3words may not be quite there yet, but from driving postal efficiencies in Mongolia to saving lives in Mexico and improving the customer experience in delivery services like DHL, there are already numerous working use cases. 

In travel, specifically, 3-word addresses are being listed on contact pages and incorporated into tourist guides like Lonely Planet and apps such as TripGo, Navmii and PocketEarth. In addition, it has been adopted by thousands of hotels and restaurants to help guests and travellers get from A to precisely B without getting lost.

EyeforTravel randomly selected the words voice.travel.future, which worked as a headline grabber. To highlight just how precise the system is, they pinpointed a 3x3 metre block a near Victor Valley Medical school in San Francisco! 

Richard Lewis, CEO of NPD Hotels says: ‘We are developing our new website with journey.travel. Each of our hotels will have a 3-word address on the location page for the exact front door – and to the entrance of our car park, if you’re driving! We will also include 3-word addresses in every booking confirmation. Our guests can just click on the what3words link, use the mapping company of their choice and travel knowing they will find us perfectly.”

Other hotels climbing aboard are Small Luxury Hotels of the World, all GHA brands, JA Resorts & Hotels, Legacy Hotels and Starboard Hotels. Other use cases include: 

  • Marinas are using 3-word addresses to give every mooring a precise location
  • Campers can pitch their tent in exactly their allocated spot – given to them in advance!
  • Providers of tours and activities can send hikers to the exact start of a hiking trail, and confidently give customers an exact meeting point, without the need for complicated directions. 

Already in 26 languages, the firm will soon have approximately 74% of the world’s population covered in either their primary or secondary language. “It means a London hotelier can send a 3-word address in French to a Parisian about to visit, removing any uncertainty or worry about getting to the right place,” explains Rhys-Jones. 

The English language, the strange beast that it is, is confusing at best

It also solves another problem; as all words used are from the dictionary, there is no need to battle with linguistic irregularities. The English language, for example, the strange beast that it is, is confusing at best – Llandudno in Wales is pronounced Clan-did-no, Godmanchester in Cambridge, Gum-ster, Magdalen College in Oxford, Maud-lin, and the list goes on. So there won’t be the problem of some poor tourist, telling a satnav to say ‘take me to Llandudno’ in a foreign accent and being met with: ‘Sorry I don’t understand, please repeat’.

“This can be hugely frustrating for travellers,” says Rhys-Jones. 

Big win 

Mercedes-Benz announced in January that it had taken a 10% stake in what3words for an undisclosed amount. This makes it the first car manufacturer to integrate the system and make it available to customers through its new voice-controlled infotainment system, MBUX. Now embedded in new Mercedes vehicles, 2018 drivers will be able to enter precise destinations using 3-word addresses, using voice or text.

We have moved one big step closer to our goal of making the vehicle into a mobile assistant

In a press release, Sajjad Khan, vice president of Digital Vehicle and Mobility, Daimler AG Khan is quoted saying: “We have moved one big step closer to our goal of making the vehicle into a mobile assistant. 3-word addresses are very simple to use, meaning drivers can give their car any precise destination, and know they’re navigating to the correct location, every time.”

But for what3words to really take off, it will need to become ubiquitous; other car manufacturers will have to buy into it too. Mercedes-Benz seems pretty confident that this is the future. In fact Khan, as the first slide of his presentation titled ‘Benchmark Connectivity’ earlier this year in Las Vegas revealed, sees what3words in the same bucket as Google Home, Amazon Alexa and wearables. 

With the biggest names in tech – Amazon, Google, Apple - going all out to win the customer with voice-driven products and services, few would disagree that this is the new battleground. what3words could, indeed, be on to something. 

what3words is running a workshop at EyeforTravel Europe on June 6

EyeforTravel Europe 2018

June 2018, London

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