Out of seven billion inhabitants on Earth, approximately 75%  do not have proper addresses that allow their houses, properties or businesses to be located on a map with reasonable precision. To illustrate, consider the two addresses of one of our authors in two different continents.
. [Name], 7116 Via Correto Dr, Austin, TX 78749: the location for this address is readily available and any navigation system can take you to the doorstep in day or night; or in good or bad weather! This is an example of a structured address. . [Name], College Tilla, PO Agartala College, Agartala 799004: Google Maps resolves this address to an area of roughly 76 sq. km. in the city of Agartala. This address is unstructured. . Adding a landmark to the above address, “College Tilla near College Tilla Lake, ..” narrows the answer to an area of approximately 3 sq. km. Upon reaching the place, and depending on how much detailed information about the occupant or the house or the location is known (e.g. whose son/ brother the occupant is, what’s his age, color of his house and if is located by the old mango tree etc.), one would take a additional 15-45 minutes, provided it’s not late night or raining. Moreover, landmark-based addressing is infrequent, incomplete and also inconsistent.
These are not merely one-off experiences that cause inconvenience. The inability to provide an accurate location for each and every address, impacts the livelihood of residents in many ways. It inhibits growth of their local trades such as salons, bakeries or food stalls. It reduces availability of amenities such as creation of bank accounts and delivery of goods and services (e.g., e-commerce) and delays emergency services such as fire brigades and ambulances.
ZIPPR, ELOC AND BEYOND .. WHICH SYSTEM WILL WORK FOR INDIA?
Computer generated addresses are coming to your neighborhood because most places in the world do not have an assigned meaningful street address. In India, 80% of the addresses are written with respect to a landmark which typically lies between 50-1500 meters of the actual address; such addresses make geolocating very challenging. Accuracy in geolocation is critical for emergency services to navigate quickly to reach you and for logistics industries to improve on-time performance and efficient routing of the package coming to your house.
In this blog, we explore suggested addressing schemes for India, to determine what use cases and potential technologies will have the best adoption and therefore, greatest impact. Currently there is a rush to use machine generated codes such as 4ZXR3B (eLoc) or CAFE0098 (Zippr). These methods have proven to work in a few ways, but such systems can be confusing for the adoptee and there are technical drawbacks as well. It is critical that India adopts the most effective scheme, and not the scheme that is most readily available or has the largest company behind it. We ask: What are the requirements for machine codes so that they are easy for a layman, easy for a service company (eCommerce, taxi etc) and suitable for computer systems?
A key challenge in driving automation and efficiency in the logistics and supply-chain industry is to make address records machine readable and convert them to precise geocodes. Postal codes have proven to be fairly effective in enabling this in developed countries, e.g., in the UK, they typically resolve any address to 100–200m accuracy. However, in India pin-codes do not seem to provide a promising solution. They represent very large areas (the median area covered by a pin-code ~ 90 sqkm) and may contain up to a million households.
Moreover, when it comes to writing pin-codes, there are hardly any easy-to-access resources that can be relied upon for determining the correct pin-code of an address. This information largely comes from elders in the family. However, as towns and cities expand and new pin-codes are introduced, most people remain unaware of the change and continue using the pin-codes they have grown up with. As a result, 20–30% of written addresses have incorrect pin-codes.
It is not the guitar lying in a corner, or the poster celebrating iconic British rock band Radiohead, that sets this office apart. It is not the curated collection of artworks—including a whimsical painting by a former employee, an ephemeral, black and white figurative print and a playful, Indianized take on the classic Birth Of Venus painting by Italian artist Sandro Botticelli—that grabs my attention. It is not even the life-sized replica of the Darth Vader mask, the fictional antagonist of the Star Wars franchise, that I find compelling.
It is the selection of books that is most intriguing. Stacked on the desk, they look like they belong to a university student in a library rather than a chief executive officer (CEO). The Industries Of The Future by Alec Ross, a business book, sits next to The Course Of Irish History, edited by T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin. On a shelf above the desk is Night School, a thriller by Lee Child, and The Poetry Of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel-winning Chilean poet, amongst several other titles. The books suggest an occupant with a Renaissance approach, blending business, art, literature, history and technology. The objects reinforce this perception, pointing to someone with an evolved sense of aesthetics as well as a taste for popular culture.
Even as common sense dictates that inclement weather and traffic-choked streets can stymie the efforts of delivery firms, one may be surprised to learn that the real logistical challenge for them is to find the correct address.
Evidenced by the six-year experience of third party logistics venture Delhivery, the incorrect deciphering of addresses in India - which are admittedly complex - by machines will likely lead to deliveries at the wrong address.
“Over the last few years, we have realized that our challenges are bigger than last mile and cash on delivery,” says Sahil Barua, CEO and co-founder of the Gurgaon-based company. “With respect to addresses, we are working on a routing proprietary software that picks up the correct address in case someone has given a wrong pin code or character,” he adds.
This software - named ‘ADFIX’ - does not depend on just a single character, but checks the whole address