Although it’s home to some 70,000 people, there are relatively few official street names and addresses in Rocinha, Rio, the largest Favela in Brazil – a real problem for its inhabitants.
UK tech start-up What3Words has the answer: an app that fits inside a smartphone and is much easier to use than a GPS. The idea is to give every single spot on the globe a unique and easy address to remember – words that translate to a specific set of coordinates.
“With GPS coordinates it’s actually pretty common to mix up two of the numbers and the worst thing that could happen is maybe you’ve ordered pizza or something and the guy actually goes to the wrong place in your town, so you were close enough that you didn’t know that you were wrong,” explains What3Words CEO Chris Sheldrick. “So our office is here at Index, Home, Raft (London) but if I typed in Index, Home, Rafts you’ll see it takes me to Western Australia where it’s pretty unlikely my pizza guy is going to go and try to deliver my pizza.”
It’s estimated about four billion people on the planet live in places that have no street names or house numbers. That means they’re off the map, can’t get a bank loan, run a business, vote or access public services.
This is where What3Words comes in: “There are plenty of examples, even in the developed world, where addressing doesn’t really work. I mean if you’re at a festival and you need to find somebody, if you’re meeting them at the park or at the beach or just anywhere really where the address doesn’t quite work you can use 3words to get you anywhere,” says Sheldrick.
The system is now available in eight languages, including French, Spanish, Russian, German and Turkish, and developers are currently working on versions in Italian, Greek, Arabic and Swahili.
With the fourth most populous country in the world, Indonesia, still suffering from a lack of effective address system, the next language in sight is Indonesian.