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What3words is about to make millions of car satnavs more accurate and easier to use

It could make satnavs far simpler to use

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Thanks to a simple partnership between two mapping companies, satnavs in millions of new cars across North America and Europe are set to get an upgrade that should make them more accurate and far easier to use.

Last week, geolocation startup What3words and mapping conglomerate HERE, which is majority owned by BMW, Daimler, and Audi, announced a partnership that will see What3words integrated into a whole host of in-vehicle satellite navigation systems.

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of HERE, it’s an OEM supplier, so unless you’re in the industry you’re unlikely to have heard of it. That said, HERE provides the navigation technology for some 150 million cars currently on the roads, and four in five new cars sold with embedded maps use its tech. So there’s a good chance your next car could use What3words, if it doesn’t already.

What3words is positioned as a more human friendly way of sharing locations. The company has mapped out the whole world, splitting it up into three meter by three meter squares, all of which have a unique three word name. Navigating to a very specific location is as easy as saying three words.

[Read: 4 ridiculously easy ways you can be more eco-friendly]

What’s more, it makes sharing very specific locations tremendously simple too.

Jørgen Behrens, of HERE Technologies, said: “[Car makers] can now provide the What3words service to their customers through the Here Search API instead of having to integrate it themselves. This will allow drivers to navigate easily in dense, urban environments with non-standard addressing schemes or seamlessly get to any location, be it a local pub or a trailhead.”

To get this level of accuracy when using car satnavs, usually required drivers to program in specific longitude and latitude coordinates or entire addresses, which is slow, cumbersome, and robotic.

What3words and HERE says that integrating their two systems will allow drivers to speak (in one of 35 languages) or type three words into their car satnav to set a location. In reality, most people rely on zip or postal codes when programming their satnav, in some cases this works fine, but in many others it provides too big an area for accurate navigation.

Despite being a very useful and effective system, one that’s used by emergency services, What3words hasn’t managed to find much use in the mainstream. Most likely because platforms like WhatsApp have useful location sharing features that make it easy to find your mates when you’re on the move.

However, not everyone uses WhatsApp, and it requires active two-way communication for it to work. While What3words is known for its app, through its API it provides a layer of map detail that can be applied almost anywhere, in this case car satnavs.

This means that businesses in the middle of nowhere can share a simple three words to help clients navigate there easily. It would also prove useful for temporary events, like music festivals, which often have multiple entrances and are spread across broad geographic areas that don’t have the best infrastructure or signage to begin with.

In these cases, you could accurately and easily direct attendees to a specific entrance to manage traffic flow in the local area.

While it’s not clear what car manufacturers are going to offer the integration, and what cars might get an update to add it, What3words says “incorporating this new feature is easily done for both new and existing clients,” and is “available as an add-on to HERE’s core navigation products.”

SHIFT has contacted HERE for more information on this point. However, if enough carmakers do get on board, and there’s not many reasons they shouldn’t (except cost), we could be about to witness a shift in how we navigate in our cars. Better yet, it could get a whole lot quicker and easier.

Sources: TechCrunch

Update November 6, 2020, 1007UTC: HERE Technologies has responded to our questions. Unfortunately it can’t say exactly what carmakers are going to add it to their systems, however it says it’s seen strong global demand for the integration.

As we said in the article, there are few reasons for carmakers not to get on board, though. “The benefit of HERE providing the service is that car manufacturers don’t have to spend internal resources doing the work themselves, and they will benefit from enhancements as HERE deploys it,” a spokesperson said.

As for an update being rolled out to vehicles that currently have HERE in their car: the company says its working on a case by case basis, so keep your eyes peeled for now.


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Published November 5, 2020 — 13:30 UTC