Want to give someone driving directions to scrap of land near a dirt road in Australia’s Northern Territory? Send them to banana.funk.friends. What3words, the mapping system that’s divided the world into 57 trillion three by three metre squares, is coming to Mercedes Benz cars in 2018.
The automaker has announced some models will now include a new navigation system that runs the global addressing system developed by the London-based startup. “What we’re allowing Mercedes-Benz drivers to do is to get into the car just speak three words and it will navigate them to that exact three metre square somewhere on the planet.”, says What3words co-founder and CEO Chris Sheldrick.
He hopes the new voice enabled system in people’s cars will help to eliminate the confusion that can sometimes be generated by street addresses that are incomplete, similar to another address or hard to pronounce. Want to find WIRED’s offices in London? Head to weeks.front.pram. The What3words app and website already provides navigation options, so its integration into cars – where inputting addresses is often a convoluted process – is a logical next step for the company.
“People have to use either dials or address fields when you type something into the car navigation system and actually entering an address by voice is also really difficult, you’ve got loads of duplicate street names,” he says. “In London there are nine different Lonsdale Roads, probably 18 or so Church Roads and then you’ve got the added complexity of wondering if the address you’ve typed in or spoken is even going to take you to the right place.”
That switch to voice, of course, is significant. As more and more of us get used to speaking to our phones, getting directions to a specific address by saying it out loud is obviously problematic. What3words is already being used in countries such as Mongolia and Nigeria, where address systems are at best poor and at worst non-existent. But Sheldrick says the system can be equally as useful in countries with formalised postal codes and street names. “Lots of people can associate with getting lost in rural areas for instance,” he says.
What3words: the story behind the global addressing system
“Often in the UK people might just fill in a postcode which might refer to one side of a two mile long road. So what people will be able to do is just specify a three word code to the entrance of their house or end of their driveway and give it to somebody else – it’s as simple as speaking three words and being navigated there.”
The What3words in-car system will also work alongside existing navigation tools. “It will continue to support all of the address systems and postcode systems that they currently support but what3words will be there as an option for drivers should they want to use it,” Sheldrick explains.
The first cars will be on the road sometime next year, although What3words and Mercedes Benz wouldn’t be drawn on an exact date or which models would include the system.