What the Tech? App of the Day: What3Words

I read this story the other day about a hiker in a forest in California who became lost. After screaming for help for several hours and trying to find something that looked familiar, the 45-year-old man took a photograph of his surroundings and texted it to a friend.

Fortunately, maybe miraculously, someone seeing the photo being shared by a sheriff’s department managed to use Google Earth to spot what looked a lot like the image in his photograph, and the man was rescued.

This kind of thing happens frequently to solo hikers who wander off the beaten path and get lost. It made me remember an app I discovered a while back that allows someone to share their precise location using a combination of three words.

I first learned of the app “What3Words” a few years ago at CES. The developers had just completed diving the earth into 3 x 3-meter squares, giving each square a unique combination of three words.

Using GPS coordinates, the three words would mark one small square of space.

For example, in a remote area of Missouri, the combination of “between.score.monumental” leads you to a space under trees just a few feet away from a clearing. Two steps to the east the combination is “sizzled. turnaround.tastings”. Standing at “unless.logo.jelly” finds you in the middle of downtown Memphis, TN.

The whole world is divided and named like this.

If a lost hiker had just 5% of the battery left in a smartphone and they could reach a cell tower briefly enough to send a text, those three words could save their life.

There are other applications of course. If someone is stuck on the side of the road they only need to send a text with the three words, or a link to the spot on Google Maps, Google Earth or Waze.

The location can be shared over Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, text and email. The app is also handy for sharing a location with friends at an outdoor festival and for remembering where you park.

The person you’re sharing the information with does not necessarily need the app on their phone, clicking the link will take them to the location on the What3Words website which can open the location with turn-by-turn directions.

In some parts of the world, emergency agencies are using What3Words to send directions to rescue personnel. There are also share buttons for use with rideshare services. What3Words is free for iPhones and Android devices.

Categories: News Video, What The Tech