(Reuters) - An innovative addressing system that assigns every patch of earth in the world an easy to remember three-word address is being used to help visitors get around at the Olympics in Rio de Jeneiro. Some 500,000 foreigners are expected to pass through the city during the Games that run until August 21.
London-based company what3words has divided the world up into 57 trillion 3-by-3 meter squares, each with their own unique three word address. For example, the face of the Sphinx at Giza, Egypt is at "foiled.policy.blueberry", while a spot of ocean a few hundred kilometers west of Hawaii is given the tag "help.incredibly.lost".
Launched in 2013, the system locates a precise spot on the globe much like traditional co-ordinates, but it is much easier to communicate and remember. In developing countries where address systems are often erratic and inconsistent, what3words could be vital for delivering aid such as medicine to an exact location. It could also offer a solution to countless people around the world without a registered address.
According to what3words co-founder Chris Sheldrick, about 4 billion people lack a consistent address.
"Addressing around the world actually doesn't work very well. The U.N. says that three-quarters of countries have an inadequate system. And you consider that a lot of nations in Africa and Brazil, (in) huge parts of the cities they just never made an address. And people live with no way of describing where they live," Sheldrick told Reuters.
Their unique algorithm creates addresses in three-word combinations from a dictionary made up of 40,000 words. The service can be translated into other languages, but only English has enough words to cover land and water. So water addresses will always be in English, while land addresses can be translated.
The three-word address is typed in to a smartphone app which then guides the user to the exact 3-metre-square location.
What3words has been providing 3 word addresses to Rio's largest favela, Rocinha; just an empty space according to many normal maps. This means more than 3,000 streets and the homes of more than 70,000 residents are invisible. But where the Brazilian post office does not deliver in favelas, local delivery service Carteiro Amigo has been using the three-word address system to safely deliver letters and parcels.
What3words has now teamed up with official Olympics organizers to stop the thousands of visitors to Rio from getting lost.
"We're in an app called 'Rio Go' which is one of the official app to actually get people around Rio so they can plan their transport routes. And you can type your three word address straight into that and it'll get you there," said Sheldrick.
Meeting friends or family in the Olympic Park is now much easier, the company says. For example, meeting at "forgiven.milder.dragon" will take you precisely to the handball entrance in the Future Arena. If medical attention is needed, tourists can navigate offline to the Jacarepagua Pharmacy is at "hint.laws.squares", while the Victoria Hospital is at "reheat.admit.take".
"So somebody would get the what3words app, they would find the three word address where they wanted; that precise entrance to the stadium that they're going to meet. What they would then do it give you the three words and then you simply type the three words into the Rio Go app and say this is where I want to go, and it will then route you there using the best public transport to exactly that 3-metre entrance to the site," added Sheldrick.
The app works across all platforms and devices, and what3words is rapidly making inroads in countries around the world. They've recently been adopted as the national addressing system for Mongolia's national postal delivery service, covering a region nearly the size of the EU.
The company says that countries with a less developed addressing system can benefit quickly from what3words. But even in countries with a mature addressing system, what3words offers a more precise and simple alternative, says Sheldrick.
"If you're ordering a pizza to your home, if you're getting a package delivered from something you've bought online, if you want to get a taxi to somewhere; we want you to be able to put in a three-word address just as if you were putting in something else, but knowing that it's far more accurate and far easier, and just works wherever you are in the world," he said.