Daimler announced at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September that it would include an innovative addressing software developed by what3words into its next-generation navigation systems.v The premium car group also is taking a 10 percent stake in the London-based start-up. At the CES high-tech exhibition in Las Vegas earlier this month Daimler unveiled how the new Mercedes-Benz user interface – MBUX – incorporates what3words, which, as its name implies, allows drivers to find a navigation address by using just three words. what3words founder and CEO Chris Sheldrick spoke to automotiveIT in Las Vegas.
Mr Sheldrick, please explain the advantage of what3words over other address systems.
Sheldrick: The classic address system was invented in the 18th century for postal deliveries. Today we’re still using the same system, but for a totally different purpose: navigation. To get from A to B, however, you need a much higher degree of reliability and accuracy, which is especially true when you’re developing autonomous vehicles and taxis. GPS coordinates are very accurate, but they are 18 characters long, which is why it’s a very laborious process to put them into a navigation system. Mistakes are also frequent. That’s why we were looking for a system that has the accuracy of GPS but, at the same time, is easy to use. We divided the world into 57 trillion squares, each measuring 3 meters by 3 meters. We gave each of these squares a three-word address. For example, if you tell your autonomous vehicle “take me to table.chair.spoon,” it will translate these three words into the appropriate GPS coordinates to bring the user there.
Mercedes will include what3words in the infotainment system of the new A-Class. How would you describe the fit with the brand’s system?
The new Mercedes infotainment system is incredibly speech-centric. Mercedes customers will be able to talk to their car with natural speech. But speech recognition still has big problems with street addresses. When I’m in London, for example, and I ask my car to “bring me to Church Road,” then I have to scroll through a list with 14 different streets with that name. That’s not exactly a natural conversation. This is why Mercedes liked our idea for a highly precise, three-word address system optimized for speech. The next step will be to assure that Mercedes drivers are aware of what3words and will benefit from it.
You’re going to have to expand your network quickly. How do you plan to firmly establish your software as a must-have for mobility providers?
We’re working hard to fully integrate our system into the existing ecosystem. In addition to Mercedes we have 600 further partners using what3words. They include e-commerce and logistics companies as well as digital travel guides and mobility platforms. It’s also important for us to actively involve our users so they can try our system and find out how easy it is to operate. It seems to appeal to people to get home or to their office with only three words. It makes them laugh. Nobody has so far expressed similar emotions while putting in zip codes or other alphanumeric codes.
Interview by Yannick Polchow