Mercedes-Benz Adopts What3Words

by on October 3, 2017 at 11:21 am in Travel | Permalink

I’ve covered What3Words the innovative addressing system several times before. Here’s some news:

Forbes: What3words (w3w) has a surprisingly simple and efficient way to find an address and get you there. The London startup has divided the world into a grid pattern of 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares and given each one a unique 3-word address. It means anyone can accurately find any location and share it instantly, removing the ambiguity from the search process.

At the Frankfurt Motor Show this week, Mercedes Benz announced it would be integrating this radical new address system into a selection of its models from 2018. “The United Nations and the Red Cross use us in disaster zones, and now Mercedes has realized that there is a problem in the developed world with accurate mapping systems and they have employed our software,” says Giles Rhys Jones, w3w’s chief marketing officer.

Hat tip: Samir Varma.

1 ಠ_ಠ October 3, 2017 at 11:29 am

I continue to think mapping between namespaces is a trivial exercise, but I suppose if they find customers, more power to them.

2 WB October 3, 2017 at 11:41 am

How are different floors in a building accounted for?

3 Bertie October 3, 2017 at 12:18 pm

When we get to the building, my man Jeeves usually just ask the doorman.

No, I am not one of those fellows who become absolute slaves to their valets.

4 Careless October 3, 2017 at 2:00 pm

When Mercedes cars are also helicopters, this might become an issue

5 dan1111 October 3, 2017 at 2:40 pm

How so?

6 Careless October 3, 2017 at 4:47 pm

Because the zones are 3×3, not 3x3x3.

7 Tom Hynes October 3, 2017 at 11:59 am
8 Tom Hynes October 3, 2017 at 12:06 pm

This is very useful for identifying a specific location on earth and obliterating it with a smart bomb or artillery round. I meant sending humanitarian aid.

9 The Other Jim October 3, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Whatever you have on hand, really.

10 Andrew M October 3, 2017 at 12:08 pm

It still suffers from the same two problems:

1) Too many words are very similar, e.g. your address “barons.huts.sneaky” could be mis-heard or mis-typed as “batons.hits.sneaks”. The former is the GMU campus; the latter is somewhere on the Afghanistan / Pakistan border. That’s a pretty important distinction if you’re using what3words to program your drone strikes.

2) Too many weird words. It’s fine for native English speakers; but the poor foreign guy who lives at “banalities.fledged.beseeched” will have trouble spelling that over the telephone, or typing it with foreign-language autocorrect enabled.

We believe we can remember three words easily, because we often type them in our search engines. But the truth is that we’re over-reliant on Google automatically correcting our typos. If I search for Geogre Masno Unveristy on Google, my drone strike will still go to the right place.

11 Tom Hynes October 3, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Assume google buys what3words with change found in the sofa and integrates it. I type “GMU batons.huts.sneaks” and it gives me choices, with Tyrone’s office ranked first. I bet “GMU barons” would hit Tyrone’s office. Google is really really good at ranking search.

12 Brad_sk October 3, 2017 at 2:07 pm

Very good points Andrew.

13 Alex Tabarrok October 3, 2017 at 6:05 pm

What3Words is available in many languages.

14 Andrew M October 4, 2017 at 5:30 am

Fair point. But even many native English speakers will struggle with “banalities.fledged.beseeched”.

15 Melmoth October 4, 2017 at 6:35 am

Agree, even when I talk to the Philippines based travel agency my company uses, even all letters have to be spelled out in the international phonetic alphabet or are misunderstood. “That’s ECHO BRAVO ROMEO..” etc. etc..

16 misc October 4, 2017 at 9:53 am

these aren’t really problems.

1) your mercedes satnav can be very easily programmed to have a double-check mechanism if the address entered is more than say 500 kilometers away.

2) it’s still a lot easier to remember that you live at banalities.fledged.beseeched than at 41°24’12.2″N 2°10’26.5″E

17 Anonymous October 3, 2017 at 12:18 pm

A cool idea, but I can’t believe that something like this is proprietary. Addressing the whole world like they are doing is somewhat trivial so the value of the whole system is in the network effect; it doesn’t matter much which mapping you use as long as everyone uses the same. It is as idiotic as if the geographic coordinate system or the time standard was proprietary.

Standards – at least ones used by the general public – should never be proprietary. It’s basically just an invitation to extract unearned profits from the network effect.

18 prior_Test3 October 3, 2017 at 2:22 pm

‘but I can’t believe that something like this is proprietary’

Yep.

What is even more amusing is that pretty much every Mercedes already comes equipped with GPS. And if not the car, then likely the driver’s smart phone. Making this statement the finest marketing BS – ‘The United Nations and the Red Cross use us in disaster zones, and now Mercedes has realized that there is a problem in the developed world with accurate mapping systems and they have employed our software.” There is absolutely zero problem with ‘accurate mapping systems’ anywhere on the face of the planet at this point. Providing accurate addresses where none currently exist (the previous example being India) is not the same thing.

Unimogs are not used for door step delivery of tons of relief supplies, after all. They are used to reach places inaccessible to most vehicles, and the driver is not worried about reaching a particular spot that might not even exist after a catastrophe. And that is pretty much what we are talking about, by the way – Schwarzenegger may have bought a U.S. street legal Unimog a few years back, but generally, Unimogs are intended for the sort of road conditions one finds in a war or disaster zone.

‘Unimogs have very high ground clearance made possible by portal gears that allow the axles and transmission to be higher than the tires’ centers. Unimogs also feature a flexible frame that allows the tires a wide range of vertical movement to allow the truck to comfortably drive over extremely uneven terrain, even boulders of one metre in height. They are equipped with high visibility driving cabs to enable the operator to see the terrain and more easily manipulate mounted tools. The newest Unimog models can be changed from left-hand drive to right-hand drive in the field to permit operators to work on the more convenient side of the truck.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unimog

19 mkt42 October 4, 2017 at 3:44 am

Unimogs. An amazingly good museum to visit is the “Hall of Flame” Firefighting Museum in Phoenix AZ. When I visited they handed me a binder with additional notes about each display, so the visitor got an eye-opening introduction to the technology of firefighting — as well as the social organization and economics of firefighting and of course the history.

For example, the museum has a German firetruck. Smaller and more rugged-looking than an American firetruck. Because according to the binder, the Germans use Unimogs as their firetrucks. Why? Because their salient experience was trying to fight fires caused by Allied firebombing during WW II, when their firetrucks couldn’t negotiate rubble-filled streets.

So since then the Germans have made sure their firetrucks will make it to the fire, by using about the most rugged large-sized off-road vehicle available.

20 rayward October 3, 2017 at 12:19 pm

I find Google Maps disturbing. Do I really want someone navigating up and down my street, looking at my house and my neighbors’ houses. When I see my neighbor’s car in her driveway, and think to myself, she’s home, and I have to remind myself that this isn’t real time. Not now, but eventually it will be real time, when Google places a little digital camera in front of everybody’s house. I know where you live and I know you are not home.

21 Careless October 3, 2017 at 2:04 pm

“Stalker worried that others are like him”

22 mulp October 3, 2017 at 12:39 pm

Either they have simply invented a proprietary base 83000 number system, if the 83000 words can be used in any of three digits, or three base 8300 number systems, where conversion to something useful requires accessing their proprietary database.

As everything is reduced to binary, three words takes more bits to represent an address than straight utm which is not proprietary and can be used to address each one meter square or one centimeter square on earth, depending on the number of fractional digits, all without a map, database, just a gps.

23 Jonathan October 3, 2017 at 2:40 pm

And if you were a computer, that would settle the question. As a human being, though, remembering three words is heck of a lot easier than remembering utm coordinates.

Since the coordinates still have to be deciphered by computing equipment, I continue to question the total social value of this, though there are obviously situations where it comes in handy, like getting a three year old to memorize where he lives.

24 Kyle October 3, 2017 at 1:35 pm

I’ve known about the 3 words concept for some time but never understood the advantage it supposedly brings over other established and simpler concepts.

Latitude and longitude can give a similar and unique global address in just 2 numbers, avoid the confusion of similar words, avoid the confusion for non-English speakers, is more appropriate in locations without the Latin alphabet, provides better accuracy, provides different degrees of precision scaling with the number of digits used, is much more adaptable to machine readability, and is not a propriety system which charges a fee.

Anybody involved with the 3 words company like to share the marketing for the advantage…ps, I already know it’s better than a flawed mail box address system. I can understand also that your own 3 words for your home are probably easy to remember as a mnemonic but every other address….

25 Brad_sk October 3, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Well said Kyle. Pretty much exactly what I was thinking as well.

26 AlexD October 3, 2017 at 2:35 pm

I agree with you about the proprietary issue.

However, one advantage it brings over other similar systems is that physical nearby addresses have radically different word mappings, making it hard to confuse. The fact that (as someone posted earlier “baron.huts.sneaky” and “batons.hits.sneaks” are different provides built in error correction. It does mean you need more info than 3 words – you need to know the general address (the City/Region), but you probably already know that for this. So you’ll know when you have the address wrong, because it won’t be remotely close.

GPS on the other hand will get you to the approximate location very easily, even with most transcription errors(assuming you’re not messing up the higher numbers). But errors in the low-significance digits are very easy to miss.

GPS: Easy to get within 10 blocks, easy to be off by 1 block.
W3W: Easy to be obviously wrong, easy to be perfectly right.

(But again… it should NOT be proprietary)

27 dearieme October 3, 2017 at 1:51 pm

It’s lovely when a clever invention turns out to be useful. Rather like lasers, actually.

28 Brad_sk October 3, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Well said Kyle. Pretty much exactly what I was thinking as well.

29 hello October 3, 2017 at 7:34 pm

I dunno. It’s clever, but it just feels like it won’t become the standard. As someone already pointed out, it is easy to remember your address, but what about those of others? The built in error correction works against you in this case.

Plus, as I said it just doesn’t feel right.

Does Alex have equity in this company, or something?

30 The Other Jim October 4, 2017 at 9:17 am

It’s an undeniably cool thing to uniquely identify every tiny square of land on Earth with just three words — even though it is completely useless.

Things that are cool but useless are a big draw to economists, and Alex is the only one talking about this one. He’s trying to corner the market on the topic, and make it his own. Even if it means posting “Hey wait, look here…. it’s actually only ALMOST completely useless!” over and over.

31 catter October 3, 2017 at 8:34 pm

Not terribly confidence-inspiring: It calls the “Court” I live on “Drive” and shows non-existent streets intersecting it.

32 Nonzenze October 4, 2017 at 12:48 am

OK, so you’ve named all the spots in the world. But navigating isn’t just knowing where you are going, it’s knowing actual information about lots of things in between where you are and the destination. Small details like roads, rivers, bridges, alleys, intersections . . . .

Seems most of the work then is collecting and updating all the data about those intermediates so you can navigate through/around them and a small fraction is naming the destination. Otherwise you might know exactly where you are going and end up just across a raging river from it when the nearest bridge is 10 miles away . . .

33 Melmoth October 4, 2017 at 6:37 am

A possible win for English language? If you tried this using the 3000 standard / commonly used Chinese characters you get only 27 billion combinations, plus many many would sound the same even with tonal variations. You could start using the vast number of lesser known characters but the sounds would still be the same.

34 J Greely October 5, 2017 at 12:06 am

The only advantage What3Words has over the many competing systems (Geohash, Open Location Code, etc) is a marketing budget. Honestly, for any location reachable with a Mercedes, a system that requires typing out three obscure words on a touchscreen (in the correct order) is never going to be used by 99% of customers. At least with street names you can get auto-completion, and possibly narrow down the range of possible street numbers.

-j

35 Merton Hale October 5, 2017 at 5:59 am

What3Words has accomplished amazing things to get their system spread around the world.
We have developed what we feel is a far superior location encoding system called qCodes.
Every address in the world is assigned a unique 6 character alphanumeric code. Think of it as a unique post code for every address.
Code are assigned in a logical way. Example: all addresses in San Francisco would have codes looking like this: SF-XXXX.

Custom codes are also available. For example, Subway sandwich shops could have unique codes for each of their more than 20,000 location in the form: SUB-XXXX (7 characters or more for custom codes.)

Codes for standard mailing address would be freely available as are postal codes. Custom codes would be sold, like vanity license plates. Somebody has to pay the bills.

With the latest GPS in smartphones, starting on 2018, giving accuracy down to 10 cm, the 3 meter What3Words square is going to be useless in many application. The accuracy/resolution of qCodes is only limited by the accuracy/resolution of your GPS system. I could go on …

We would be interested in comments about the system.

More info at: our-qcodes.com

36 Nic October 5, 2017 at 4:42 pm

Folks. This is a great example of “Path Dependency”

In all of the developed world, W3W has no practical use. Mail usually gets delivered fine and indeed – drones will soon as well, all without W3W.

Now- I have a cabin/bunker/pretty pond in the Russian taiga somewhere and want to navigate someone there without fail – maybe W3W simplifies things.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: