It's a busy spring day. You're moving at top speed to get the crop planted, and your planter stops cold at the far end of your biggest field. You need service support, or an employee, to head your way. You could send GPS coordinates and hope the receiver gets it right, or you could just say you're sitting at “///fond.curtain.sprays” to receive help.
What you say? Those three words provide a precise location for a farm field near Parkville, Ill. And combine that nonsense phrase with a powerful app called what3words, and you can find a location anywhere on earth. "We have divided the entire world in 3-meter squares and given each square a unique combination of three words," says Isabella Convertini, international markets director at what3words.
GPS coordinates are not easy to remember specifically, though they too can be very precise. But the what3words founders looked at the challenge of geo-location from a more practical way. Instead of punching in a string of numbers to find a location, simply entering the three words separated by periods in the app will show you right where to go.
Convertini explains that the system is in use by emergency services and other groups around the world for a simpler way to find exact locations. "In Great Britain, farmers can map locations of specific features of their farms and share with local fire departments," she says. "For example, they can show where fuel storage or fertilizer storage is on the farm."
Getting emergency services to the farm is critical. But when they arrive at larger operations, what's more helpful — “third bin from the left,” or a string of simple words that can easily be shared over the phone?
Convertini explains that what3words is a global system, and it’s available in 47 different languages too. "We also worked to eliminate words that sounded similar, so it is clear that when you give a location, it is understood," she says.
She says the company even mapped the oceans, which would be valuable for shipping. But what about the middle of a farm field?
For a farmer that wants deliveries made to a specific building on the farm, what3words allows them to easily say exactly where that delivery should arrive, and you can even keep lists of specific what3words locations on your farm using the app. It can also be used to share your exact location in the case of an emergency.
"We work with 911 centers in 18 states. And while they don't see the need for it every time, they see value," Convertini says. "We make the technology available for free for emergency services."
Using what3words is free for general users via the app or online map at what3words.com. The startup’s business model is based on charging large companies who benefit from building what3words into their systems and products, such as car makers and delivery companies.
Farmers can give it a try on their smartphones by downloading from your preferred app store.