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United Kingdom
An article was changed on the original website

Police use unique GPS app to rescue woman by locating her with three random words

Terrified and utterly disoriented after flipping her car into a ditch, Valerie Hawkett found herself stranded with absolutely no idea where she was.

After managing to pull herself and her four-year-old daughter free from the vehicle, she called the police. But she could not be seen from the road and was unable to direct them to the scene.

Incredibly, officers were able to pinpoint her exact location using new technology that assigns three random words to every 3m X 3m square on the planet.

As such, after being sent the relevant web link, the words “weekend foggy earphones” led officers straight to the scene - a field on the A36 heading out of Norton St Philip, Somerset.

The geocoding system, called What3Words has divided the world into 57 trillion squares, each of which has its own unique address.

Avon and Somerset Police were among the first in the UK to pilot the technology last year and Ms Hawkett, 33, and her daughter are believed to be the first rescued with it.

Two other police forces, Humberside and West Yorkshire, also use the system, as does the British Transport Police and three fire services; Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

Call handlers can send a text to the caller with a link to a page that generates their three-word address.

Thousands of other organisations have also adopted the technology, including the UN, which uses it for disaster relief, Mercedes-Benz, which recently launched the world’s first car with built-in What3Words voice navigation, and Domino’s Pizza.

Individuals can also use it to meet in crowded places such as on beaches or at festivals.

The technology was the brainchild of  British entrepreneur Chris Sheldrick, who says it is more specific than postcodes, which were invented when posting letters was the main form of communication, and simpler than GPS co-ordinates.

Mr Sheldrick and his friend Jack Waley-Cohen, a mathematician, who met when they both played chess at Eton, came up with the idea in 2013 and spent a year developing the product. They ensure that words that have two different spellings and profanities are carefully screened out.

To generate 57 trillion three-word addresses, the company uses the cube root of that figure - a pool of about 38,500 words.

Sam Sheppard, of Avon & Somerset Police, said it had changed the way the force dealt with incidents when the location unknown.

He said: “We are moving away from the old style questioning - ‘Where have you come from?’, ‘Where are you going?’, ‘What can you see?’ etc.

“These questions take time and aren’t always that accurate. Asking for a three word address or sending an SMS so they can easily provide their three word address, has meant we have saved valuable time locating incidents.”

Ms Hawkett, from Trowbridge, Wiltshire, said the system had proven invaluable.

"I was so disoriented after the crash that I didn't know where I was,” she said.  

"It's a road I drive every week - but it was really wet weather.

"I was going round a really sharp bend, and I had slowed down, but I just lost control.

''The car fully took off from the road and went up and over a bush, and landed in a field.

''I could have been in that field all day, if it hadn't been for the three-word location.2

She initially tried to send police her location via Google Maps but they texted her the web address for What3Words and found her straight away.

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