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Sony Invests in Geolocation Startup Used to Shoot ‘Ready Player One’

Sony’s venture capital arm, the Sony Innovation Fund, has invested in London-based What3words, a geolocation startup that aims to provide human-readable and easily shareable names for each and every location on the planet. What3words was previously used to share locations for the production of Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” and has also had cameos in multiple TV shows.

“We are trying to solve a huge global problem,” said What3words chief marketing officer Giles Rhys Jones. “The world is incredibly badly addressed.”

Company co-founder and CEO Chris Sheldrick first realized this when he was working as a manager in the music business, booking gigs at random locations, and occasionally sending bands to the wrong door. GPS, as precise as it is, simply isn’t easily to relay, argued Rhys Jones.

CREDIT: Courtesy of What3words

Variety’s Los Angeles office on What3words.

His company’s solution has been to divide the entire globe into 57 trillion squares measuring 10 x 10 feet each, and give each of these squares a unique name consisting of 3 words. Variety’s office in Los Angeles, for instance, can be found at “///secret.adjust.coats.” “It’s a hash tag for location,” said Rhys Jones.

One of the early adopters of the company’s location descriptors has been Hollywood. For instance, when Steven Spielberg shot “Ready Player One” back in 2016, the crew shared unique locations in Birmingham with What3words.

CREDIT: Courtesy of What3words

The “Ready Player One” crew used the service to easily share locations in Birmingham.

Of course, most people will simply use services like Google Maps to share their location with others. However, Rhys Jones argued that this has some downsides. For one thing, most of these services are closed platforms, and sharing location links across apps isn’t always easy.

What’s more, sharing locations this way simply doesn’t work with smart speakers and other voice interfaces, which increasingly are finding their ways into cars. “We are a pin on a map that you can say,” explained Rhys Jones.

Hollywood also seems to like the mystery of random words leading to precise locations. The CBS drama “NCIS: Los Angeles” used the service in an episode a year ago, in which detectives found the victim of a kidnapping based on a What3words address. And NBC’s “Blindspot” introduced the service to its audience last May, with characters hilariously tripping up on its name.

Sony and What3words didn’t disclose any details about the funding, but the startup said that it wants to use the new cash influx for a U.S. expansion, spearheaded by a new office in Silicon Valley. The company is also looking to bring What3words to new markets. Thus far, it has introduced 26 localized versions based on non-English words. And finally, it aims to double down on its use in the voice and automotive space, where it has already partnered with car makers like Mercedes Benz and Land Rover.

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