A tinyLiDAR Sensor for Your Arduino

Alasdair Allan
3 min readAug 11, 2017

I’ve always been a fan of the MaxBotic ultrasonic sensors. I’ve used them extensively, written about them a lot, and over the years they’ve been my go to when I need to measure distance.

However, despite the wide range of differently configured sensors heads available, the cone of sensing for ultrasonic sensors can be fairly wide with a minimum measurable distance of around 7 or 8 inches. They’re also power hungry. So if you want to measure close by objects, or your power budget is low, you need to look elsewhere.

LIDAR sensors, short for “Light Detection and Ranging,” are time-of-flight sensors which use a laser and a matching sensor to measure the time it takes for the laser light to bounce back from an object. Enter the tinyLiDAR board, now crowdfunding on Indiegogo.

Three tinyLiDAR boards mounted in parallel on a tilt-head. (📷: tinyLiDAR)

Based around STMicroelectronics’ VL53L0X the tinyLiDAR board can measure distances from 30 mm (just over 1 inch) up to 2 m (around 6½ feet). It comes with an onboard dedicated micro-controller allowing it to be controlled by boards like the Arduino via a simple I2C command set.

The tinyLiDAR board isn’t the only place you can pick up a board supporting the VL53L0X, the laser-ranging module at the heart of tinyLiDAR. Asimple breakout board for VL53L0X can be picked up for $6.63 a piece on AliExpress, with shipping adding another $2.09 if you’re just after a single board.

The tinyLiDAR connected to an Arduino Uno. (📷: tinyLiDAR)

However if you want something with a bit more documentation Adafruit offer a breakout board for the VL53L0X for $14.95 and, as you’d expect from Adafruit, it comes with lots of documentation to get you started as well as Arduino library code.

Yet the tinyLiDAR board does have advantages, the onboard microcontroller means that it can be driven with a faster scan rate—it can take more distance measurements every second—than if it was being controlled directly by an offboard microcontroller like the Arduino. Because you’ve offloaded the sensor management to a second microcontroller your Arduino code is also smaller as are the supporting libraries.

The tinyLiDAR “Follow Me” demo.

Now in the closing day of its Indiegogo campaign the tinyLiDAR board starts at $15 for a single unit—or $39 for three—with and additional $5 for shipping. Delivery of the modules to backers is expected to begin in October.

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