An analysis of Sonar calibration issues

When comparing a couple of I2C (digital) sonars with the normal (analog) sonars I noticed the range reported by the analog sonar appeared to be wrong. A tape measure proved the digital sonars were spot on and the analog data was well off. Other users have reported similar problems (here and here).

Some work with a spread sheet, schematics and the sonar data sheets helps point to the causes of this.

First the sonar module analog output is in proportion to the Vcc input to the sonar - this is a particular problem when running on USB where your Vcc can be down around 4.8 volts - you can not assume an accurate 5 volts to the sensor. This means you can not just measure the analog voltage output and hope to calculate an accurate range.

Second different Maxbotics sonar models output different voltages per centimetre. Even within the XL model range there is a 200% difference in output voltage for the same range. eg (from data sheets):

LV - EZ0 MB1000:(Vcc/512) per inch
XL- EZ0 MB1200: (Vcc/1024) per cm.
XL- EZL0 MB1260: (Vcc/1024) per 2 cm.

Third the analog port on the APM / IMU shield uses the ADS7844 external Analog to digital converter. This device does a 12 bit conversion relative to a reference voltage. The 'Foxtrot' version schematic shows this reference is 3.3 Volts. The ADS7844 data sheets says in this configuration it will digitize a signal in the range 0V to 3.3V. This appears to mean we cannot reliably use the sonars to their maximum range as they will output greater than 3.3 volts at some point (any range over 5 meters for the MB1200 and over 7 metres for the 1260). I wonder if this is why some users report strange 'zoom climb' behaviour when in altitude hold - particularly in the 4 to 8 metres altitude range.


The Rangefinder library makes no allowance for either of the three points above. It assumes the numbers coming out of the ADC are directly proportional to centimetres, and this is not the case at all. If you have a MB 1200 it will read twice the range of a MB1260 if you have a MB1000 then you have to convert from inches to metric and allow for half the resolution. If your power supply voltage (Vcc) is not known then you can not accurately calculate your range. If your sonar signal goes over 3.3 volts you may not get the correct result from the ADC.


Below is a screen grab of my google spreadsheet that shows the difference in reported range and actual range and the ability to calculate an fairly good adjusted range by taking the points above into account. I haven't tried this at longer ranges yet so cannot test the 3.3 Volt limit theory.


Before we charge off and re-write the Rangefinder library I'd like to hear what people think of the theories outlined above.

(for those that are curious the digital (I2C) sonars use timing of pulses to indicate distance so no voltages are involved and so they avoid all of these issues)



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  • Developer


         Thanks again for the great analysis.  I've changed the code in trunk to take all this into account and the accuracy seems much better.  There's a new parameter called SONAR_TYPE which can be 0 for the default XL-EZ0, 1 for the cheaper LV-EZ0 or 2 for the 10m range XL-EZL0.  I think Michael O will likely update the APMissionPlanner to add a drop-down to make it easy for people to select this but until then it can be done through the CLI's setup menu.

         Not sure when the next official version will be pushed out..we're working on APM2 support at the moment but still probably won't be too long.


  • Hi everyone,

    We saw your post on here and wanted to add some information. We recently completed a  study of noise immunity of our sensors.  Please click this link to view the post in DIY drones


    Thank you for showing how accurate our analog voltage is.  If you have any specific questions about your above post please let me know. 


    Best regards,

    Scott Wielenberg
    Technical Support & Sales
    of MaxBotix Inc.
    Phone: (218) 454-0766
    Fax: (218) 454-0768


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  • Developer


         Great work once again.

         We use to cater for the LV-EZ0 but the consensus was that the output was the same for both so we removed the special code for the LV.  It was messy anyway because it couldn't be done in the was a compile time option.  I swear I saw a datasheet with the LV reporting in cm...but I must have been mistaken.

         Anyway, it's not terribly difficult to allow for the different versions and Michael Oborne probably wouldn't mind adding a dropdown into the APMP.  I don't think it would lead to any performance impact.  I can take care of this although I can't do it this week.

         The 3.3v cut-off is a bit of a concern...I would definitely not want to provide 3.3V to the sensor's power because according to the datasheet that does affect distance.

         I've added it to the issues list here.


  • As a quick fix can I just put a ferrite ring on the cable until I can locate a shielded cable? Does it do the same thing more or less?

  • I don't know if there is any suggestion about forum post but people (and I) could save huge amount of time if the post linked the datasheet and/or info page about the parts being involved:

    Sonar wiki

    Sonar MB1200

    Oilpan IMU(see schematic)

    ADS7844 ADC


    I agree with your conclusions:

    - ADC readings will be clipped above 3.3V (@675.84cm with MB1200), but since this is more or less the max range of the sonar it's not a problem.

    - The sonar is ratiometric (aka its output depends on its input voltage), so the most reasonable thing to do its to use the 3V3 supply (the same as the ADC's Vref uses) instead of the 5V, to null out any voltage drifting. (As done with accels and gyro chips)

    MB1200 behaves almost the same using 3.3V instead of 5V, although slight less max range (6m vs 7M) and narrower beamwidth but, as the target is floor, I don't thing this is a major issue.


  • Uh. My ignorance almost make me blush.

    I thought we were using the PW signal. Thats called whishful thinking, right?

    Your findings are really very interesting @agmatthews, I hope this will be followed up.


    I suppose there are good reasons for reading the analogue signal (hardware resources on ACM and Oilpan), but it certainly makes the data collection more vounerable. Depending on Vcc and sensitive to electromagnetic buss, which is inevitable among multiple ESC, XBee transmitter, and even worse for many of us, a high power video downlink.

    Think I might dig into my boxes for some ferrite toroid...


    Would it be possible and reasonable to develop I2C-option for the ArduCopter sonar?

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