What3words – The Space-Powered App Saving Lives

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Earlier this month, a 14-year-old boy saved his younger brother’s life using what3words when he suffered a life-threatening seizure.

What3words is a satellite-powered geocoding system, conveniently located in an app. By dividing the world into 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares, it allows users to communicate their exact location using a unique three-word address.

Liam, aged 10, suffered a brain injury after being diagnosed with Burkitt’s leukemia when he was five – this left him prone to potentially life-threatening seizures. When one struck on a rural road in the West Midlands and Liam’s medication failed, his brother quickly opened what3words and called 999. Thanks to his quick thinking and this piece of life-saving technology, dispatchers were on the scene within five minutes.

“We were in a very rural area, in the middle of nowhere, and we didn’t know the name of the farm or road we were on,” said the boys’ father. “The app gave the paramedics an exact location so they could reach us in just five minutes. If it wasn’t for Callum thinking to pull up the app, Liam could have lost his life.”

What3words is available in 193 countries and in more than 45 languages – it’s even been used to save a man trapped 20 metres down a vertical cave entrance. The experienced caver was in a remote part of the Yass Valley in Australia when he became stuck, but was thankfully rescued using this innovative space-powered app.

In an incident in July 2020, an 11-year-old boy used the app to save his grandma after their car was crushed by a tractor. It rolled unmanned down a hill on a country lane in the North York Moors, completely crushing the driver’s side and trapping her inside. The young boy had no idea where they were, but was able to the words ‘fetches, melons and daydreams’ to notify the emergency services of their location. The boy’s mother, who works as an ambulance dispatcher, had told him to download the app in case of an emergency.

The Yorkshire police later revealed they had used the app over 500 times in the past year to locate callers.

“Having this type of technology integrated within our Emergency Operations Centre system has changed the way we are able to deal with incidents,” said Trevor Baldwin, Head of Service Development at Yorkshire Ambulance Service. “Asking people questions about their location when they have little knowledge of an area takes time and responses aren’t always that accurate […] It has been particularly helpful when identifying the locations of road traffic collisions, but the biggest success story to date was when it was used to help us find a runner in cardiac arrest who we then managed to resuscitate. Time is precious in these circumstances.”

When surveyed in July 2022, 44% of emergency services said they what3words to locate callers every day. A third use the technology on a weekly basis. One service reported using the app almost 2000 times this year so far to locate callers.

This is a great example of space being used for good. Using cutting-edge GPS, satellite and other space technologies, the sector can drive innovation and save lives. What3words is completely free to download for iOS and Android devices and even words offline. If you don’t have one of these devices, you can still access what3words on your web browser. We strongly urge everybody out there to make a note of this and download the app if you can – it could save a life one day.