What the Tech? What3Words app helps save a life

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(ABC 6 News) – Rebekah Sanderlin was on a paddle board somewhere off the coast of Virginia Beach, Virginia when, in a matter of minutes, the weather changed.

“All of a sudden I found myself paddling against the tide and against the wind. And it was like being on a paddleboard treadmill. I wasn’t going anywhere,” recalls Sanderlin.

She was paddling on the Lynhaven River which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay which eventually leads to the North Atlantic Ocean.

She was drifting toward the Chesapeake Bay for who knows how long. She was near exhaustion, and understood the danger she found herself in.

“That’s when I got really scared because I thought I’m a pretty good paddle boarder, but if I go unconscious, then I’m dead. I’m gonna drown here,” Sanderlin said. She called her husband on her smartphone and told him she was in trouble and couldn’t get back home. He asked and encouraged her to find any piece of dry land she could reach with the help of the tide and wind.

She eventually reached a boat dock and called her husband again on her smartphone. “And said, okay, I’m at this boat dock,” she said. “I don’t know what to do now. I have no idea where I am. He said, ‘do you still have that what3words app?”

Sanderlin said she’d almost forgotten the app was on her phone. She and her husband installed it months earlier while at a music festival to meet up with friends.

The developers of What3 Words mapped the globe in 3×3 meter squares and identified each square with 3 random and unique word combinations. Sanderlin checked the app and told her husband she was at a location marked by “Labs//Piano//Food.” It’s so precise If she had been on the other side of the dock, she would have been at. “Arena. Leaves. Nurse.”

Using the 3 words, Her husband followed turn-by-turn directions to her location, helped her onto dry land, and took her home. She quickly added the app to her kids’ smartphones.

“So if they get lost somewhere and don’t know how to communicate their location, they can tell me that way.”

Hikers have used this app to lead rescuers to them in the middle of the forest. Had Rebekah been a mile from land, it would have been marked with a different three-word combination. Anywhere, everywhere is marked with three simple words. The app is free, with no ads, and doesn’t share that location information with any other company. It’s literally a lifesaver.