Roadshow

What3words location tech comes to Mercedes cars

Daimler is investing in the startup that maps the entire planet with three-word labels and is building the tech into some smaller cars.

The What3words service can be used to give a precise location for difficult-to-describe spots like the hot springs viewing area at Bumpass Hell in Lassen Volcanic National Park: "clipped.proposals.ices."

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Carmaker Daimler has invested in startup What3words, a move that signals how important the location service could be in regard to pesky navigational chores.

What3words' service, used by the postal service of Nigeria and several other countries among other entities, lets you identify a small patch of the planet with three words -- 57 trillion 3x3-meter patches cover the whole world. It works even without physical addresses, so for example, the center of the Golden Gate Bridge is "super.skirt.letter" if you want to tell your friends just where you are.

Daimler took a 10 percent stake in What3words, the startup said Wednesday, though it declined to say how much money the stake was worth. Daimler will build the system into some of its small Mercedes A-Class cars as soon as this spring, it said.

Cars have always been about going places, but only relatively recently have carmakers discovered that navigation can be as important as the actual driving. They've been scrambling to adapt to catch up to digital technology like Google Maps, for example by spending billions to acquire Nokia's Here digital mapping technology

I could have used something like What3words when on vacation in Corsica, an island that despite being part of the modern nation of France still often lacks street addresses. That fact thwarts modern mapping technology like Google Maps. So you can see why Daimler is interested, especially since it's easier to tell three words to a voice-recognition-equipped navigation system than it is to laboriously punch in addresses, streets, cities and postal codes on sat-nav systems' clunky touch screens.

"You can enter your destination by speaking just three words and are then guided there to within an accuracy of nine square meters. Anywhere in the world," Sajjad Khan, Daimler's vice president of digital vehicle mobility work, said when the company announced it would build in What3words technology.

What3words works in multiple languages. However, it doesn't integrate with popular mapping services like Google Maps. So if you like it, for now you'll have to use the company's website or apps -- or a Mercedes.