June 06, 2011
Universal Geocoding from NAC Assigns Unique Codes to Every Location on Earth
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News
Universal Geocoding from NAC Assigns Unique Codes to Every Location on Earth
By Susan Smith

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easier way to describe exact location so that it could become more memorable? NAC Geographic Products Inc. is working at doing just that.

In an interview with Dr. Xinhang Shen, president of NAC Geographic Products Inc. , he spoke of NAC’s creation of its own Universal Geocoding format. NAC Geographic Products Inc. developed the Universal Address System that has assigned a unique code called Universal Address to every location on the earth. According to Dr. Shen, there are many organizations using NACs as their addresses.  For example, you can search Google with keywords: “Universal Address” and campground to see thousands of campgrounds with their Universal Addresses.

GISWeekly: How does this Universal Geocoding format differ from assigning lat long to a particular address or location?
Dr. Shen:
You may have noticed that there are rarely people using lat long in their daily activities. This is because the lat long coordinates are too long for people to remember when they are accurate to individual houses. Therefore they are mainly used by machines rather than human brains. A Universal Address is a human-friendly representation of lat long designed for both human brains and computers. For example, the Brazilian address: Rua Mituto Mizumoto 220, 01513-010 Sao Paulo, Brazil is at lat: -23.5585 and long: -46.6317 that require 16 characters, while its Universal Address requires only eight characters: C3DL C266. Because of the short length, the Universal Address can be neatly displayed on small devices, easily read, communicated and remembered, efficiently input into devices, beautifully printed on photos, gracefully included on business cards and compactly listed on yellow pages. With the Universal Address, visitors can efficiently navigate to the location, postal/courier services can automatically sort mail/parcels from the world level to the final mail boxes, and taxi and emergency services can reliably deliver their services to the location.

Unlike lat long that are awful to be marked on large scale maps, the Universal Address is the coordinates of the Universal Map Grids that can be marvelously applied onto all maps in any scales and projections and make the location information of these maps directly connected. Actually, it connects all the location information no matter whether it is from GPS devices, paper maps or interactive electronic maps for location based services, postal services or census statistics used by professionals or consumers.  The Universal Address can be used to unify all representations of addresses, postcodes, area codes, geographic coordinates, map grids, map sheet numbers, property identifiers, etc in the world.

In the Natural Area Coding System, we use highly efficient unified codes to represent both points and areas with 30 most popular characters in the world (ten digits and 20 capital consonants). These codes are called Natural Area
Codes (NACs) defined by a series of NAC grids. The first level NAC grid is formed by dividing the full range of longitude and latitude in the WGS-84 datum into thirty equal divisions respectively with one character representing each of these divisions as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

A cell on this grid is represented by two characters such as NAC: D H the black cell in Figure 1. To further divide each of these cells into thirty equal divisions, we get the second level NAC grid. A cell in the second level NAC grid is represented with four characters such as NAC: DK HP. Repeating the same procedure will make the third, fourth, fifth and even higher level NAC grids.

For CSDL C266, the first part CSDL represents longitude and C266 represents latitude. "C C" is the first level grid coordinates, "S 2" is the second level grid coordinates, "D 6" is the third level and "L 6" is the fourth level. [some comments from Dr. Shen’s talk at the GeoTec Event]

2) GISWeekly: Do you expect the Universal Geocoding to become a standard?

Dr. Shen: Yes, we have been working to make it a world standard so that people all over the world can enjoy the benefits from the same efficient, language independent and unique addresses for all locations in the world. As the Universal Address is both a digital address and a global address, it is also becoming the symbol of the digital and globalization era.

GISWeekly: How do you propose to get this technology to countries who do not have address systems or databases?
Dr. Shen:
Actually we haven’t proposed it to any countries because we don’t know which country has put the issue on their agenda. All the contacts are initiated by the countries which believe the Universal Address System is the best solution for their address or postal code system. Thus, they can turn the disadvantage of lack of street addresses or postcodes into an advantage in the revolution of digitization and globalization, immediately ahead of industrialized countries which are racking their brain to fix their chaotic address systems. According to our experience in geocoding services, there are only about 30 countries in the world that have workable address databases. Even with these databases there are more than 10% addresses that can’t be found or mismatched. Since addresses are defined mainly in urban areas, most locations of a country (even a developed country) remain no addresses, not to mention countries that don’t have address systems yet. The Universal Address can solve all the problems caused by lack of traditional addresses, but further solve many problems of traditional addresses such as non-uniqueness, language dependency, variations, outdatedness, incompleteness, etc. The Universal Address, more generally, the Natural Area Code can be used as the representation of all areas and locations in the world: addresses, area codes, postal codes, geographic coordinates, property identifiers, universal map grids, etc for 911 responding, GPS navigation, automatic mail sorting, local searching, mapping and various geographic information systems. All these will surely attract more countries seeking improvements in their location applications.

GISWeekly: When accessing by smartphone, what does the user need to do to have this capability?
Dr. Shen: There have been several NAC enhanced applications (NACMaps, Mobile GMaps, Locago, nactag.info, mlbs.net, Locamagic, etc) for smartphones that allow users to get their current Universal Address with the smartphone’s internal GPS or use the Universal Address to specify the location for retrieving maps, making local searches or getting driving/walking directions. Users can download NACMaps on Blackberry AppWorld, Google’s Android Market and Palm’s App Catalog. Mobile GMaps is available for most J2ME phones ( http://www.mgmaps.com). Locago is available at http://www.locago.com. If the smartphone has HTML5 web browser, it can directly use the HTML5 version of NAVMaps on http://nactag.info/. With the Universal Address capability, users in most countries now can use this application on their smartphones to get door-to-door navigations or other location based services.

GISWeekly: What makes universal Geocoding more accurate than traditional methods of providing location data?
Dr. Shen:
The Universal Geocoding Solution takes a completely different approach in obtaining the geocodes. Instead of searching the user’s address in an address database, it asks the user to directly input the Universal Address on a web application. Since the user knows their location better than anyone else, the Universal Address they have obtained using either their smartphone’s GPS or online high resolution satellite image maps has been verified by the user, but database based geocoding is carried out in the server hidden from the user, its database can never be 100% complete and up to date and always has typos, the user input address may be outdated or not written in standard form or match multiple locations, and many locations do not have addresses, which make database based geocoding frequently fail.

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