A simple question that can be quite difficult to answer.
Postal codes, at least in the modern age, first appeared in Ukraine — then part of the USSR — in 1932. They were invented out of an urgency to quickly disburse large volumes of mail in an efficient way. To this day, the distribution of mail by government-owned post agencies remains its primary use.
In modern times, however, postal codes have found multiple use cases. They are useful for delivery services — to route delivery of sold items — , to calculate census and population statistics, for door-to-door marketing, in the creation of legislative districts, and to ensure credit card security.
A postal code can tell where you live.
“I just felt it was basic human dignity to have an address; it’s like you have a name, you have an address. It contributes to your sense of identity; this is where I live”
While many people who live in the developing world have addresses, these do not often include a postal code. While these countries usually have a system for delivering mail and (in some cases) have official postal codes, they are largely unused by the citizens. In the absence of that, how do you find people in times of emergency or need?
Sesinam Dagadu experienced this firsthand as a young graduate in Accra, Ghana. As a new employee of a bank that was transitioning from merchant banking to commercial banking, he was tasked with registering new users within communities. Routinely, he got lost looking for the prospective clients he had previously met.
While he was thinking about this problem, he learnt about two other things. Haiti was overrun by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January 2010, and all their essential communications went down leaving emergency workers terribly underhanded. Years before that, the July 7 2005 bombings in London resulted in overloading to the communications system, also hampering emergency services.
“We have a poor country and a rich one having the same difficulty of reaching people. It became clear (to me) that we need to have an addressing system that worked offline, not relying on the internet”
His response was SnooCODE, a postal code system that works completely offline — except to download the application first. He filed a patent for his technology in November of 2012 which has since been granted. The app generates a special six-character alphanumeric code that is accurate to within less than 25cm, more accurate than a postal or ZIP code as no two houses can have the same SnooCODE.
But central to their ethos has always been the capacity to improve emergency services; this came to fruit in August 2015 when they received a generous grant from the Vodafone Ghana Foundation to develop a use case of their technology for the Ghana National Ambulance Services. Their ultimate goal is to reduce the emergency response times in order to meet the international standard requirement of 8 minutes.
“But a 21st century addressing system should do so much more (than just addresses), we built the technology to do three things: to locate people, to offer verification, and to be adaptable”
So far, SnooCODE’s technology has been tested in every country in Africa. Their next use case — Firefly — is to use the technology to provide drones with location information, a powerful tool for emergency deliveries. Firefly would also be capable of aerial photography and relaying the delivery information to the source.
Though developed in Accra, their solution is targeted at answering some of the difficult global logistics problems: has x been delivered? Is the health worker who left y minutes ago at z yet?
And Sesinam says the technology is more flexible because the developing world is its starting point, postal codes were invented before the internet and so are not natively built for some of the technology that references them.
SnooCODE’s future lies in the provision of addresses that are permanent but not predictable, giving security to people who may want their addresses unknown to others. Because where you live is private.
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