I created an itunes app…
What3words: The app that can save your life
Police have urged everyone to download a smartphone app they say has already saved several lives. What is it and how does it work?
Kicked. Converged. Soccer.
These three randomly chosen words saved Jess Tinsley and her friends after they got lost in a forest on a dark, wet night.
They had planned a five-mile circular stroll through the 4,900 acre (2,000 hectare) woodland Hamsterley Forest, in County Durham, on Sunday evening, but after three hours they were hopelessly lost.
“We were in a field and had no idea where we were,” the 24-year-old care worker from Newton Aycliffe said.
“It was absolutely horrendous. I was joking about it and trying to laugh because I knew if I didn’t laugh I would cry.”
At 22:30 BST they found a spot with phone signal and dialled 999.
“One of the first things the call-handler told us to do was download the what3words app,” Ms Tinsley said.
“I had never heard of it.”
Within a minute of its download, the police said they knew where the group was and the soaked and freezing walkers were swiftly found by the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team.
“I have told everyone I know to download this app,” Ms Tinsley said.
“You never know when you are going to get lost and need it.”
What3words essentially points to a very specific location.
Its developers divided the world into 57 trillion squares, each measuring 3m by 3m (10ft by 10ft) and each having a unique, randomly assigned three-word address.
For example, the door of 10 Downing Street is slurs.this.shark, while the area across the road where the press congregate is stage.pushy.nuns.
It was born out of company founder Chris Sheldrick’s postal-related problems growing up in rural Hertfordshire.
“Our postcode did not point to our house,” he said.
“We got used to getting post meant for other people, or having to stand in the road to flag down delivery drivers.”
Ten years in the music industry, which involved trying to get bands to meet at specific entrances to their venues, also fuelled his frustration.
“I tried to get people to use longitude and latitude but that never caught on,” Mr Sheldrick said.
“It got me thinking, how can you compress 16 digits into something much more user friendly?
“I was speaking to a mathematician and we found there were enough combinations of three words for every location in the world.”
In fact, 40,000 words was enough.
The company started in 2013 and now employs more than 100 people at its base in Royal Oak, west London.
Mongolia has adopted what3words for its postal service, while Lonely Planet’s guide for the country gives three word addresses for its points of interest.
Mercedes Benz has also included its system in its cars and what3words is now being used in 35 languages.
But still, not enough people know about it according to Lee Wilkes, a crew manager for Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, one of 35 English and Welsh emergency services to have signed up to the system.
“It cuts out all ambiguity about where we need to be,” he said.
Tackling fires in large rural expanses, for example on moors, will be helped by the system, Mr Wilkes said.
“Instead of saying ‘meet at the gate and then get directed from there,’ we can be absolutely specific about where our crew needs to get to,” Mr Wilkes said.
“It will make for a much more effective service. We are quite excited about it.
“It would be flippant of me to say this will become commonplace but I really do think it could be.
“I just cannot see a downside.”
If people do not have the app, the emergency services can send a text message containing a web link to their phones.
But that requires a signal (85% of the country is said to have a 4G connection). The app does not need a phone signal to tell someone their three-word location, however.
“Say there was a group up a mountain and one got injured,” Mr Sheldrick said.
“They haven’t got any signal to call for help, but they can still find out their three word location.
“Someone from the group can then take that down and tell the emergency services, who then know exactly where to go to find the injured person.”
The emergency services are urging people to download the free app.