Google Unveils Plus Codes: A New, Open-Source Alternative to Street Addresses

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Mar 13, 2018
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Google Maps is now an integral part of our lives and virtually indispensable. Everything ranging from our daily commute to the weekend drive is easier, thanks to Maps. However, its functionality begins to dwindle, once you navigate away from urban areas. Several regions in the world bear no markers, such as street names or house numbers. Using maps in such a location is nigh impossible, given the lack of identifiers.

The problem is particularly prominent in emerging markets such as India, which has recently witnessed a sharp rise in smartphone sales. A good chunk of the Indian population, especially people in rural areas, still live on unnamed streets which are impossible to locate using conventional mapping techniques. To tackle the problem, Google has developed what they call “Plus Codes,” an open source method of mapping locations that are considered off the grid otherwise. According to Google’s blog post:

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In India, we know how challenging it can be to reach a given residential address. They are unique in format, and vary across regions, localities, and use cases. While some addresses are well-defined by street names and house numbers that are easy to find, others can be long-winded and hard to locate. The other reality is that millions of people and places in India are hard to locate — especially those in remote areas. We are deeply committed to helping find solutions to these challenges.

Each Plus Code is ten characters, with the first four characters are the area code, describing a region of roughly 100 x 100 kilometers. The last six characters are the local code, describing the neighborhood and the building, an area of roughly 14 x 14 meters. The area code is not needed when navigating within a town, while another optional character can be appended to provide additional accuracy down to a 3 x 3-meter region.

This system is based on dividing the geographical surface of the Earth into tiny ‘tiled areas’, attributing a unique code to each of them. This code simply comprises a ‘6-character + City’ format that can be generated, shared and searched by anyone — all that’s needed is Google Maps on a smartphone. They could be used, for example, to distinguish different entrances to the same building, or to provide an exact location on a long rural road. Or they could be used for emergency services to locate the site of an accident

Plus Code functionality is being integrated into the Google Maps app as well, so you can use it to zero in on a location. Similarly, entering a Plus Code into the search bar also has the same result. They’re designed to work offline and can be incorporated into other products and platforms for free. Plus codes are by no means a replacement for current addresses and is designed to excel in locations that are hard to identify with conventional markers.

Source: 9to5google

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