I would like to know what are the differences between Positioning and Localization. In most papers they are used interchangeably.

Are they the same? Does one come after another?

I always thought in this order:

  1. Localization: GPS coordinates found.
  2. Positioning: Found you in a map.
  3. Navigation: Now you can navigate thru a map.

Is this correct?

5 Answers 5


The word localization is a new and, in my opinion, an annoying addition to geomatics. The question used to be: What is the difference between positioning and location? Two possible answers to which were:

  • they're the same thing
  • the difference depends on a specific context

One context was AVL (automatic vehicle location). In the late '80s, Hassan Karimi coined the term PLANS for "positioning, location and navigation systems". While it didn't catch on, it does relate closely to your question. In that context, positioning was determining coordinates (what the P in GPS stands for), location was finding that place on the map (or the nearest point on a road network to that position), and navigation was finding routes to other places on the network. If that is correct, then you have your 1 and 2 in reverse order.

Now to the (IMO, ugly) word localization. I often see it used in the context of trilateration where position must be determined from multiple distance measurements to control points. In that case it is synonymous with positioning. However, I believe the more common use, especially in IT, of localization is "the process of adapting internationalized software for a specific region or language by adding locale-specific components and translating text." wikipedia


From a robotics point of view, I would give this explanation:

positioning - coordinate oriented and based on a fixed reference system (What's your position? - I'm at position x y z)

localization - a feature-based approach with respect to the local environment (What's your location? - I'm on top of the mountain)

This goes well with the word origin (localization and positioning) and also established terms like SLAM and GPS.

cf. position vs. location


"The terms position and location are nominally interchangeable, but are normally used to denote two different concepts. Thus, position is expressed quantitatively as a set of numerical coordinates, whereas location is expressed qualitatively, such as a city, street, building, or room. A navigation system will calculate a position, whereas a person, signpost, or address will describe a location. A map or geographic information system (GIS) matches locations to positions, so it is a useful tool for converting between the two. Figure 1.2 illustrates this. Some authors use the term localization instead of positioning, particularly for short-range applications. The two are essentially interchangeable, although “localization” is also used to describe techniques that constrain the position solution to a particular area, such as a street or room, instead of determining coordinates."

Groves, Paul D.. Principles of GNSS, Inertial, and Multisensor Integrated Navigation Systems, Artech House, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/yln-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1531533


Positioning: only gives information about receiver coordinates.No information about enviorement

Localization: gives information about receiver coordinates and also enviorement. positioning is a subtopic of localization


GPS(Global Positioning system): is a positioning system (also a localization system) and gives coordinates of receiver

SLAM(Simultaneous localization and mapping): is a localization system and using for constructing or updating a map of an unknown environment


I don't think anyone has nailed the question yet.

To understand localisation you must understand the difference between

  • frames of reference
  • position
  • pose
  • posture

frames of reference - a consistent orthogonal tri-axis definition that encloses the problem-scope you are solving

position - where you are w.r.t. a pre-defined coordinate frame

pose - your position plus your orientation w.r.t. said coordinate frame

posture - your kinematic configuration plus your pose in said frame

When practically applied to solving real world problems the complexity of the environment and the application dictate whether you need to solve the problem to the level of detail pertaining to position/pose/posture etc. They also dictate the reference frame (i.e. GPS or local frame requirement). A 'position' is only a parameter bounded by the localisation problem.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.