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Mapcode – A short address for any location on Earth

Imagine being able to find a location anywhere in the world, even in a remote village in Africa, Cambodia or India. A new system called Mapcode does exactly that. Invented by the founders of TomTom, mapcodes has been launched by the Mapcode Foundation and is being embraced throughout the world.

Have you ever been left more confused than when you started by asking for directions and receiving a response like, take the 2nd left after the petrol station, travel along the road for 3 miles and turn right at the white church, the place you want is opposite the Happy Ending Cinema?

Every day millions of hours are lost trying to find people or places, much time is wasted, deliveries are late and much revenue is forever lost. Satellite Navigation has changed much of that that but addressability is still a huge problem. Over a million addresses are missing in India and another 4m in Africa. It is estimated that around 60% of all dwellings worldwide simply do not have an address. So if the location does not have an address, then you can’t expect someone to find it. Mapcodes will change all that, here’s how.

Mapcodes is a free system with a code that is short, easy to recognise and remember, consisting of two groups of letters and digits, separated by a dot. It represents a location on the surface of the Earth, within the context of a specified country or state consisting of 4 and 7 letters and digits.

The shortness of mapcodes is a key differentiating factor between coordinates which are nerdy, lengthy and need special keyboards. Mapcodes assigns short codes for densely populated areas and longer 5, 6 or 7 characters codes for rural and remote areas. It is estimated that 95% of world's population is concentrated on just 10% of world's land surface*, so 70% of the world’s population is covered by 4 character mapcodes.

Mapcodes are accurate to within a few meters and therefore perfect for public, every-day use.

“The idea of Mapcode came about when we saw that millions of locations around the world do not have a recognisable address and were hard to find,” said Pieter Geelen, Co-Founder of Mapcode. “Introducing a mapcode system means everyone is empowered with the ability to identify any location on earth, regardless of the country or its infrastructure.”

“Mapcode is an important development in creating a new global standard that makes it easy for anyone to pinpoint any location. The technology will be supported by TomTom, and we hope to see other organisations adopting it in the near future,” commented Harold Goddijn, CEO TomTom.

Other systems are geographically limited in coverage and commercial. Mapcodes are free, not proprietary or branded, without, restrictions or conditions. The mapcode system is undergoing approval as an ISO/TC 211 standard. The source code is released under Apache License Version 2.0.

Mapcodes work like postal codes but with some important differences. Unlike postal codes, mapcodes don’t need databases that can be expensive to maintain and becomes outdated the moment it’s released. Instead anyone can create a mapcode using free software by putting in the latitude and longitude of a location. Sequentially spaced, mapcodes can assigned as postal regions and serve to sort mail or deliveries for certain regions. Mapcodes can be used as a low-cost, simple way to create a postal code system for developing cash-strapped countries that don’t currently have a system in place.

Even where there are reliable address systems in place it’s a great way to make any location findable whether it be a camping site, a bench in a park or a drinking well somewhere on earth. Since mapcodes cover the entire globe, international 9 characters mapcodes can be used for the ocean to mark the site of oil rigs, shipwrecks or other notable places. Use of mapcodes is only as limited as the imagination.

In the short period after the launch of mapcodes, usage has become prolific in Africa. Adoption in South Africa by their post office means they can presort mail with a fine granularity for large rural areas, previous unnamed streets and houses can be referenced, most LBS services use mapcode in location encoding and usage is spreading into Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Some parts of India are evaluating it and quickly recognizing its value. Even in Europe, some automotive, government and public utility instances are latching on to its benefits and showing a keen interest. Mapcodes is creating some amazing business opportunities for IT individuals who wish to offer it as a service.

Third party applications are available to find mapcodes, a free app Mapcode for iOS is now available on the AppStore and and Mapcode Mobile for Android available on Google play.

The Mapcode system is developed by the founders of TomTom, Pieter Geelen and Harold Goddijn. It has been donated to The Mapcode Foundation, whose purpose is to foster mapcodes as a standard of public location encoding, and to provide, support, distribute and stimulate the use of mapcodes, free of charge, as widely as possible.

Mapcodes are patented by the Mapcode Foundation; this is purely to prevent inaccurate offsets of the same location by a change to the standard and thus creating an incompatible mapcode.

The Mapcode Foundation is a non-profit foundation, established in The Netherlands with directors who include Pieter Geelen (co-founder of TomTom), Kewal Shienmar (business development and GIS specialist with TomTom) and Hugo van der Linde (CEO at AND Automotive Navigation Data). Bearing in mind that mapcodes are freely available, the Mapcode Foundation is not a closed club; any relevant industry leader may join the board. The foundation is already in discussions with a several organizations and further expansion is expected.

For more information please visit www.mapcode.com

*The new global map of European Commission's Joint Research Centre which was published in the World Bank's World Development report.