Inexpensive laser time-of-flight sensor with 2m range

Small, cheap ($13) laser ranger finder with 2m range and less noise than sonar. Sign me up!

The VL53L0X from ST Microelectronics is a time-of-flight ranging system integrated into a compact module. This board is a carrier for the VL53L0X, so we recommend careful reading of theVL53L0X datasheet (1MB pdf) before using this product.

The VL53L0 uses ST’s FlightSense technology to precisely measure how long it takes for emitted pulses of infrared laser light to reach the nearest object and be reflected back to a detector, so it can be considered a tiny, self-contained lidar system. This time-of-flight (TOF) measurement enables it to accurately determine the absolute distance to a target without the object’s reflectance greatly influencing the measurement. The sensor can report distances of up to 2 m (6.6 ft) with 1 mm resolution, but its effective range and accuracy (noise) depend heavily on ambient conditions and target characteristics like reflectance and size, as well as the sensor configuration. (The sensor’s accuracy is specified to range from ±3% at best to over ±10% in less optimal conditions.)

Ranging measurements are available through the sensor’s I²C (TWI) interface, which is also used to configure sensor settings, and the sensor provides two additional pins: a shutdown input and an interrupt output.

The VL53L0X is a great IC, but its small, leadless, LGA package makes it difficult for the typical student or hobbyist to use. It also operates at a recommended voltage of 2.8 V, which can make interfacing difficult for microcontrollers operating at 3.3 V or 5 V. Our breakout board addresses these issues, making it easier to get started using the sensor, while keeping the overall size as small as possible.

The carrier board includes a low-dropout linear voltage regulator that provides the 2.8 V required by the VL53L0X, which allows the sensor to be powered from a 2.6 V to 5.5 V supply. The regulator output is available on the VDD pin and can supply almost 150 mA to external devices. The breakout board also includes a circuit that shifts the I²C clock and data lines to the same logic voltage level as the supplied VIN, making it simple to interface the board with 3.3 V or 5 V systems, and the board’s 0.1″ pin spacing makes it easy to use with standard solderless breadboards and 0.1″ perfboards. The board ships fully populated with its SMD components, including the VL53L0X, as shown in the product picture.

For a similar but shorter-range sensor (up to 20 cm, or 60 cm with reduced resolution) that includes ambient light sensing functionality, see our VL6180X carrier.

VL53L0X datasheet graph of typical ranging performance (in default mode).

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 0.5″ × 0.7″ × 0.085″ (13 mm × 18 mm × 2 mm)
  • Weight without header pins: 0.5 g (0.02 oz)
  • Operating voltage: 2.6 V to 5.5 V
  • Supply current: 10 mA (typical average during active ranging)
    • Varies with configuration, target, and environment. Peak current can reach 40 mA.
  • Output format (I²C): 16-bit distance reading (in millimeters)
  • Distance measuring range: up to 2 m (6.6 ft); see the graph at the right for typical ranging performance.
    • Effective range depends on configuration, target, and environment.
    • The datasheet does not specify a minimum range, but in our experience, the effective limit is about 3 cm.

Included components

A 1×7 strip of 0.1″ header pins and a 1×7 strip of 0.1″ right-angle header pins are included, as shown in the picture below. You can solder the header strip of your choice to the board for use with custom cables or solderless breadboards, or you can solder wires directly to the board itself for more compact installations.

VL53L0X Time-of-Flight Distance Sensor Carrier with included header pins.

VL53L0X Time-of-Flight Distance Sensor Carrier in a breadboard.

Views: 10229

Comment by Nikola Rabchevsky on August 9, 2016 at 3:40pm

Interesting but the outdoor range is around 80cm and that's using a white reflecting surface.

I wonder if you could put a lens on it to extend the range.


3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on August 9, 2016 at 3:55pm

Ah, bummer. No good to me, I guess. Might as well stick with my Lidar Lite


3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on August 9, 2016 at 4:48pm

Pulsedlight was bought by Garmin and the website and products were discontinued. So that's no more, sadly. Fortunately, I've got a few on-hand already.

Comment by Gary McCray on August 9, 2016 at 5:07pm

Hi All,

This is a great module even with sub meter performance for all kinds of uses.

In addition to close object avoidance for slow personal robots, this can be used for all kinds of machine position sensing and at this price it is very appropriate for even DIY hobbyist applications.

Also, one thing I could not find even in the chips data sheet was beam divergence or ranging FOV (how small a spot / cone it is actually measuring).

This is actually very important, if it is wide, than the nearest obstruction within the wide beam will trigger a reading to that distance. (Sonar is typically wide beam and works this way).

If the laser beam or reception areas FOV is narrow then it will only react to things directly in front of it.

For my use I would prefer as narrow a response angle as possible and to scan the beam to look for and identify objects as is normal with a laser scanner.

Maybe somebody else reading the data sheet can better locate and describe this information, all I found was a reference to a cone angle for both emitter and receptor that you did not want to interfere with, but there is no indication if that is equivalent to FOV or not, although if it is, at 35 degrees for the emitter and 25 degrees for the sensor it would seem to be so wide as to be useless for most applications.

It would be good for detecting that there is something in the general direction that it is pointed, but it will only tell you the closest distance of anything in it's cone and you would have to "steer" it a considerable distance to see past the object.

For my and any scanning uses a FOV (divergence angle) of less than 3 degrees and preferably less than 1 degree is much better, this can be achieved with the tight beam of a laser or by a narrow FOV lens in front of the sensor (or both).

@ Chris, when I try to go to the PulsedLight3D website I get a no connect, are they still in business.

Several of their distributors show "out of stock" and Even Robotshop showing a version 3 Lidar Lite expected soon doesn't actually have any.

Any thoughts on this?

Comment by Gary McCray on August 9, 2016 at 7:10pm

Hi Chris,

Definitely sadf!

So much hard work with PulsedLight with DIYD developers and users and so much hopeful and worthwhile development, even seemed like they were really getting there.

Absorbed by another manufacturer that doesn't give one whit for their product, PulsedLight probably had a few concepts Garmin wanted.

Yet another example of why I am not at all the free market capitalist I once was.

Now if only that scanning LIDAR on a chip from MIT were available.

BTW I did finally find where the FOV is referenced in their manual, it is indeed 25 degrees.

This is a very wide field of view and their measurement accuracy chart is based on a target at that distance completely covering that 25 degree field of view (probably a wall).

Great for navigating around whole walls, but hard for other things.

It might be possible to mask the emitter or sensor for a smaller FOV, but you would have to play around with it to determine whether or how well it would work.

Might still be worth getting one of these to see what you really can get it to do.

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on August 9, 2016 at 7:14pm

Even if it worked at just 50cm distance, and was a reliable "yes, the ground is really there" sensor, that would be very useful.

Comment by Laser Developer on August 9, 2016 at 10:44pm

@Gary - don't panic, we're still pushing the envelope - 50m range in bright sunlight, >500 rps. Coming soon ;). 

Comment by Jesus A on August 10, 2016 at 4:01am

It is a sort of WoW signal for a low price. Very interesting, pity to not have analog output so it could be used right now

Comment by naish on August 10, 2016 at 4:17am

@ Laser developer  I hope will be $12.99 ;) 

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on August 10, 2016 at 7:04am

Nice LD.  If that's under $50, it should do well.  Up to $100 OK.  The current sensors at $300ish, it's harder to justify. At that price it has to be a need rather than a want.

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