What3words system set to help during an emergency

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Emergency medical care provider ER24 will use the what3words addressing system and app to locate patients where addresses are not possible to find.

The system divides the world into a grid made up of 3m x 3m squares, and uses algorithms to encode geographic coordinates into three dictionary words.

While GPS coordinates need 16 digits to identify a location, what3words translates the GPS coordinates into three words which it will generate on its app. The words will never change.

The partnership, announced in Johannesburg yesterday, allows ER24 to integrate what3words into its computer-aided design system so that when a patient calls and quotes the three words, ER24 can ping them and know their location.

ER24 is a private emergency medical care provider, supplying emergency response and pre-hospital care services, supporting public and private hospitals.

For ER24 to connect with a patient in case of an emergency, the person has to download the what3words app.

Once a patient enters an address on the app, it will generate the what3words address which is a GPS co-ordinate of the location. For example, rally.latches.steams will take you to a precise spot at the Johannesburg Botanical Garden.

The app translates the GPS coordinates into words and the patient will only see the words that what3words had pre-chosen for that specific address.

If the patient is not sure of their location, they can choose the satellite view on the app to check if the ping is on the right spot or not. If it is not, they can move it to where they want it to be, and then the app will generate the three words. This will allow ER24 personnel to respond to a location that doesn’t have a traditional address; for example, informal settlements or rural areas.

When the patient calls the emergency service and gives ER24 the three words, the company can log the call and the system can ping the caller’s exact location.

ER24 communication officer Russel Meiring says he is proud to partner with what3words as the company optimises how ER24 works.

“We are still going to use the traditional address system for locating our clients; this is an add-on. South Africa is a diverse country. We have suburbs and informal settlements. We have to find simpler ways to get to our patients.”

By partnering with what3words, ER24 will be able to navigate quickly to locations, he notes. “Incorrect addresses can delay the time in which the emergency service can get there.”

In South Africa, the app uses Google Maps to ping the user’s location and it can be downloaded for both iOS and Android, or for a browser.

The location ping can be saved and shared using mobile apps that are already on the user’s phone, such as WhatsApp and Uber.

The app is available in English, isiZulu, isiXhosa and Afrikaans, and the company is working on the Setswana and Pedi versions. The words won’t be a direct translation from the English words.

What3words country manager Lyndsey Duff says the system uses satellites for location and the app works offline, making it ideal for use in areas with unreliable data connections.

“Once you have downloaded the app, you never need to be online as long as your phone has a live sight from the sky. You will be able to use the app as it will ping your exact location.”

Duff explains the app uses thousands of words from a words list, with what3words choosing words with the ideal connotation. There are no swear words on the system.

“After the words have been chosen, we plug them to our formula. We don’t have three words that are similar in one country.”

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