Sep 23 - 3min readHow a Geocoding System Helped Law Enforcement Save A Mother and ChildBy Launchbase

Valerie Hawkett felt totally disorientated and terrified after her car had flipped into a ditch. After pulling her four-year old daughter from the vehicle, Valerie had no idea where she was and struggled to describe where she was once she had called the police. However, police officers could pinpoint her exact location using a new form of tech that assigns three random words for every 3m x 3m square on the planet.

After being sent the necessary web link by what3words, the system could take the words “weekend foggy earphones” and relay the exact location to the police officers so they could locate the vehicle. The words provided gave the officers the location of a field close to the A36 heading out of Norton St Philip, Somerset. The geocoding system what3words has divided the world into 57 trillion squares, with each of these squares holding a unique address. Somerset police are known to be one of the first in the UK to pilot the tech and Valerie Hawkett and her daughter are believed to be the first individuals to be rescued using this technology.

How does what3words work?


“The what3words app divides the surface of the planet into grids measuring 3 x 3m and makes use of an algorithm to develop a unique 3-word marker to the 57 trillion squares that have been created. This gives a simpler and precise locator marker that a grid reference that is lengthy. “

Humberside and West Yorkshire Police also use this system. The British Transport Police as well as three fire services in the northern sectors have seen the value in using technology to assist in rescues. Call handlers can send a text to the caller with a link to the page that generates their three-word address.

Various organisation has seen the value of this technology, including the UN. The UN use this tech for disaster relief. Another well-known company that have seen the potential in this are Mercedes-Benz, which recently launched the world’s first car with built-in What3Words voice navigation. This technology can also be used in crowded areas at festivals or beaches to let family and friends know where you are, should they get lost. This technology was created by British entrepreneur Chris Sheldrick, who found a gap in the market for something more specific than the standard postcode. Chris Sheldrick and his friend Jack Waley-Cohen, who is a mathematician, came up with the idea 6 years ago and spent one year developing the overall product. They made sure to have two different spellings and make sure that profanities are screened out. To generate the 57 million-three-word addresses, the company makes use of the cube root of the figure which is a whopping pool of approximately 38,500 words!

A member of the Avon & Somerset Police, Sam Sheppard has noted that the way the police force has changed the way that they approach incidents when locations are unknown. He stated that they are moving away from the old-style of questioning such as, “What can you see?” or “Where are you going?”. These questions take too much time and are and could lack in accuracy. By asking for a three-word address and using the tech that What3Words provides means that police forces save valuable time locating the site of incidents and could save many lives.


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