What3Words – yes, those 3 words!

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What3Words is an ingenious location app, which can be downloaded onto your smartphone (Android and iPhone versions are available from your app store) or used on a desktop computer via a browser. If you have ever wondered why there are three random words associated with the description of our activities on our websites – that is What3Words! We provide them to help you navigate to a meeting point, so that we can all set off on our walk in a timely fashion. No going to the wrong entrance or car park at venues where there might be more than one choice, and our walk leaders can use the app to pin-point our location in case of emergency.

How does it work?

I have no doubt that What3Words was born out of a random conversation, probably held in the context of consuming some alcoholic beverages. It’s one of those concepts!

Someone, somewhere, who knew the total number of words in the English language, happened to meet up with someone else, who knew the precise area of the Earth’s surface. When these two bits of knowledge collided, between them they realised that every 3m2 of the Earth’s surface could be accurately identified by a unique combination of three different words. Simple! All that was then required, was to assign a three-word combination to every 3m2 location on the globe, build an app which allows you to search for a location based on a three-word combination, or tells you what the three-word combination is for anywhere in the world, and link it to navigation apps, which tell you how to get there.

The app itself has both graphical and satellite maps of your location and allows you to save and share the three-word combination for different places. It has useful tutorials on how to use and get the most from it, and can be used for anything from route planning, to organising treasure hunts, to pinpointing locations for the emergency services. Because the app relies on GPS location and not mobile data or wifi, it can still calculate a location even if your phone is out of range of a mobile network.

Screenshot of What3Words location

How accurate is it?

The accuracy of the app depends on the GPS tracker built into your device, and its ability to connect to satellites in space. This is how the triangulation to calculate your location occurs. At the current time, my phone is indicating that I am in the middle of the road outside my house, rather than sitting in my living room writing this blog, but it is quite clear that this is no more than 4-5m away from my true location (my house fronts onto the pavement, with no garden, and has thick stone walls), so accurate enough for someone to scan the area to locate me.

Is it a gimmick?

Certainly not (in my opinion). Most (but not all) emergency services use the information to locate incidents, courier companies are using it to increase the accuracy of their deliveries, and from personal experience we used it when our car broke down last year on the way to our holiday cottage in the South Devon countryside. Rather than blocking a single track road we were able to limp the car to safety in a disused farmers silage clamp. However, at that point we were not easily visible from the road. I gave the breakdown service our What3Words location (overture//continues//width), which allowed them to easily locate us, even though we had little knowledge of the area and would have otherwise struggled to give them pointers to our location.Holiday Breakdown

Unfortunately, some Mountain Rescue organisations and the Coastguard have currently chosen not to use What3Words. Therefore, before setting off on an adventure which might cause you to need to call on their services, make sure you have a means of providing them with an accurate grid reference of your location. OS Locate is another app provided by Ordnance Survey which calculates your 6-figure grid reference based on your phone’s location and will also tell you your altitude. It is a separate app from the OS Maps app used for route planning, and worth having on your phone in case of an emergency. It is also a good idea to register for the text 999 service which allows you to contact the emergency services by text if you are in a situation where you are unable to speak.

Stay safe out there!

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