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In-car navigation might seem easier than ever with most new cars coming with sat nav built-in and tools such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. 

However, mapping company what3words is charting a slightly different course. 

The company has been on something of a roll recently, announcing partnerships with Lamborghini, VinFast, and Volta Trucks in the last three months. For CEO Chris Sheldrick, though, the appeal of what3words compared to other platforms is clear.

Mapping out the Problem

“Google Maps and Apple Maps are excellent tools for navigation, public transport and for looking up points of interest, and to do much of this, they use street addresses,” he says.

Chris Sheldrick What3words
what3words’ CEO Chris Sheldrick

“Street addresses can however cause havoc for automotive navigation systems, especially when inputted by voice,” he continues.

“They are often inaccurate, covering large areas and making it difficult for drivers trying to navigate to precise locations such as specific delivery entrances of warehouses or meeting spots in rural areas. Business parks and stadiums are usually assigned a single address, and yet have multiple entrances and car parks, while pop-up venues may have no address at all. In addition to this, thousands of duplicates also exist – did you know that there are 34 ‘Victoria Roads’ in London?”

Instead, what3words uses a grid system that has split the entire globe into 57 trillion three-metre squares. Each square is then assigned a unique name – “usual.trying.highs,” for example, will take you to a vista overlooking San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. 

“Most people can recall at least one frustrating experience where they have tried to input a street address into a car’s navigation system. They are often clunky and time-consuming to input, especially by voice, and even once you have entered a building number, address and postcode, you can still be left driving around trying to work out exactly where various entrances or car parks are,” says Sheldrick. 

“what3words offers a simple and effective solution to these issues, and the benefits our technology could bring to automotive partners was immediately clear. Our system allows you to simply say or type just three words – a what3words address – to specify a precise destination,” he continues.

For what3words’ growing list of automotive clients, which started with Mercedes-Benz in 2017 before being joined by Lotus, Mitsubishi, TVS, Tata Motors, and Triumph motorcycles, the advantage is clear.

“what3words eliminates these issues for automotive partners, drastically improving efficiencies and the overall customer experience for drivers,” says Sheldrick.

Driving innovation

Improving the experience for drivers is, of course, central to what3words’ work with automakers. 

“We have really enjoyed working with our automotive partners, and in the past few years we’ve seen an uptick in demand for integrations in this sector,” says Sheldrick.

“While there is a perception that automakers are – relatively speaking – slow to work with, we’ve found that through over the air updates and heightened app connectivity, we have gone from our first conversations with OEMs to being in vehicles in just six months.”

What3words Sat Nav

Ensuring speedy deployment is essential for anyone working in the automotive sector as our cars become increasingly defined by their software, rather than their hardware. 

Voice control, for example, is becoming increasingly commonplace in today’s passenger cars while, even five years ago, it was seldom seen on any cars – let alone run-of-the-mill hatchbacks.

“what3words is the first addressing system specifically optimised for voice input, and it eliminates these issues that occur when trying to input street addresses,” says Sheldrick.

“We’ve even found that our technology enables a 135% increase in address recognition and that our three-word addresses are significantly faster to enter by voice than street addresses – both of which are crucial for optimising the customer experience.”

“Speaking a street address into a voice interface can be time consuming and frustrating,” says Sheldrick.

“Not only do thousands of duplicates exist but some road names are easily confused, for example, Lawn Road and Lorne Road, which sound exactly the same when spoken. Numbers can make things even more confusing; saying ‘Take me to 241st Street’ can sound exactly the same as ‘Take me to 2, 41st Street’. In addition, addresses in different languages can be hard to pronounce for non-native speakers. While we’re not the first to recognise these issues with street addressing, the solution offered by what3words is markedly different from other approaches in this space.”

When it comes to implementing the system, Sheldrick, again, emphasises ease of use above everything else. 

“Our approach has always been to make these integrations as simple as possible for automakers to implement, in a way that feels native to both their vehicles and their brand,” he says.

“As part of this we have made a conscious effort to work within existing supplier structures, enabling our solution in HERE, Harman Ignite Store, TomTom, Amazon Alexa and many others, to streamline the process.”

Ambitious Expansion

That focus on ease of use and easy implementation would seem to be paying off.

“In addition to partnerships with Lamborghini, Volta Trucks, TVS Motor Company and VinFast – all announced in the last 3 months, we have a number of exciting automotive partnerships in our 2022 pipeline,” says Sheldrick.

What3words Map

It’s also important to remember that what3words hasn’t had the smoothest journey to its current level of success. The company was founded in 2013 but didn’t see any great success from its initial consumer-focused business model. It was only when Mercedes came onboard in 2017, that what3words’ fortunes started to change. 

However, just a few days ago, the company announced a new multimillion-pound brand campaign, with the aim to “revolutionise” the way the world talks about locations.

The idea of using a three-word phrase to find a precise location anywhere in the world is simple and, while it isn’t quite perfect, it certainly makes a compelling alternative for in-car navigation as voice control becomes more popular compared to manually inputting addresses. 

But, with its rapidly growing list of automotive partners, what3words is certainly putting itself on the map.

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