MAKALU, for centimetre-accurate geolocation

A view of Makalu (Himalayas), the fifth highest mountain in the world
A view of Makalu (Himalayas), the fifth highest mountain in the world

Institutional Communication Service

2 December 2019

The exiting world of GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) geolocation systems is about to welcome a new player in the field: MAKALU, a new device developed entirely in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, the result of a research project led by the USI Advanced Learning and Research Institute (ALaRI, Faculty of Informatics) and carried out in collaboration with ETH Zurich and Saphyrion Sagl. The project has been completed and has produced a working prototype, ready for industrialisation by the Ticino-based tech company Saphyrion. The device developed by Dr. Alberto Ferrante and his colleagues is in fact a small – but very precise, to the centimetre – geolocalisation system.

This project is an excellent example of collaboration between academic and business partners, a model championed by Innosuisse, the Swiss Innovation Agency which, among other activities, "supports science-based innovation projects carried out by companies in cooperation with research partners". Launched at the end of 2017 (read here:, the MAKALU project received financial support from Innosuisse and involved USI in scientific research, ETH Zurich as an academic partner and Saphyrion Sagl as a business partner.

The main feature of this new device is its high level of precision, comparable to that of sophisticated geodetic devices (from 'geodesy', the science of accurately measuring and understanding Earth's geometric shape, orientation in space, and gravitational field), systems that are however very expensive, while the product developed in Ticino will have a much lower cost. The classical applications envisioned for this system are mostly in the field of civil engineering, for example for the measurement of buildings, dams, roads, etc., where high precision is required to determine the position of reference points, which in some cases can give indications of possible and dangerous movements that could jeopardise the stability of the structures. However, these are measurements of 'static' objects, not in motion therefore. But more can be done, as Dr. Ferrante explains: "The low cost of the MAKALU positioning system will allow it to be used in a whole series of new applications where positioning accuracy were foregone for cost reasons. In particular, the results of MAKALU can be used in IoT (Internet of Things) applications related, for example, to landslide monitoring. The latter represent a serious problem for Ticino and the availability of a low-cost device will help with the implementation of forecasting and warning systems".