Addressing the World in New Ways

[This was originally posted on LinkedIn, October 2017]

The purpose of addresses is to enable the conveyance of a specific location to others. Our current system is not adequate for the modern world. This has become apparent most recently as we have witnessed the natural disasters in Houston, Puerto Rico and Northern California.

In Houston, rescue helicopter pilots that were given street addresses had difficulty finding the locations because floodwaters distorted the landscape. For outsiders, it was already difficult to find rural locations in Puerto Rico but with roads torn up and cell towers shutdown, the standard methods to identify locations were inoperable. This month, National Guard troops in Northern California were using paper maps to navigate unrecognizable burned out neighborhoods. Clearly there are needs for expressing location easily – for emergencies and for many other applications.

Developers have come up with solutions to assist in conveying location.

One is geohash which encodes locations on Earth using binary data typically written in base 32. The first character sends you to one of 32 rectangles that cover the entire Earth’s surface. Add another character and you identify one of 32 rectangles in the original rectangle. Add another one and you zoom in a little more with each set of rectangles getting smaller and smaller. A 9-character geohash identifies about a 5m x 5m square. The public domain system allows for up to 12 characters that gets you a rectangle 37.2mm x 18.6mm, if you need that level of accuracy.

The geohash dr72mbb references a piece of Yankee Stadium. Adding another character provides more detail - dr72mbb1 gets you to a piece of the infield. If you want to zoom in on home plate, you would add another character - dr72mbb11 gets you there. The geohash is not that memorable for a human, but it uses at least 7 fewer characters than a latitude/longitude description. One cell to the west would be dr72mbb10 and one cell to the east would be dr72mbb14. Again, these references are not memorable labels but can easily be encoded/decoded by a simple program and sent in a tweet or SMS message like a URL -

Another system which is gaining traction because it is more memorable for humans is what3words. The system divides the surface of the planet into 57 trillion 3x3m squares. Each square is referenced by three words separated by periods. A set of 40,000 words was chosen for the labels which allows for 64 trillion labels – enough to cover the 57 trillion and 7 trillion for expansion. The system has been developed in multiple languages for use around the globe.

Home plate at Yankee Stadium under this system is located at smile.slimy.calm which is easier to remember and convey.

Similarly named locations that are off by one letter are separated by great distances to avoid issues. For example, is in New South Wales, Australia while is near Lodi, California.

Location systems such as these could be beneficial not only in emergencies but also to commerce, navigation and a multitude of other endeavors. Rural locations which may not have standard addresses can more easily be identified. For example, Mongolia is using the system for providing mail service to remote locations for the first time. Amazon drones will need more than your street address to deliver a package. They will need the location of a landing pad - whether it is in a backyard or the roof of a building. You will be able to easily share your exact location in public spaces to others whether you are in Central Park or the Detroit Airport.

The possibilities of these new addressing systems will only be limited by the opportunities that they create.


Disclaimer - This material has been distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product.

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