SparkFun's New SparkX Qwiic Sensors Offer Laser, Ultrasonic Rangefinding to Multiple Objects

New "experimental" SparkX boards offer multi-object rangefinding via laser or ultrasonic pulse, but there's no supporting library yet.

Gareth Halfacree
a month ago β€’ Sensors

SparkFun has launched two new Qwiic-compatible "experimental" sensor boards for those looking to measure distances quickly and with accuracy: Time-of-flight (TOF) sensors based on lasers and ultrasonics capable of simultaneously ranging to multiple objects.

"The VL53L3CX is an awesome ToF (Time of Flight) range finder from STMicroelectronics," the company explains of its laser-based Multi Distance Sensor board. "It shares the same diminutive form factor as its predecessor but has learned a cool new trick: Multi-object detection!"

"With some very fancy algorithms, the VL53L3CX is able to detect different objects within the field of view with depth understanding, something that isn't very common in laser range finders. The VL53L3CX has a field of view of about 25Β° and is able to detect objects up to 3 meters away, making it ideal for robotics, IoT, and smart lighting applications."

The laser-based VL53L3CX breakout board includes two Qwiic connectors compatible with SparkFun's existing Qwiic ecosystem and other I2C-based interfaces. For those who would like to use it on a breadboard or wired directly into the system, 0.1" headers are included.

For those who would rather not play around with a Class 1 laser, there's an alternative capable of similar multi-object rangefinding: "The CH101 from TDK InvenSense is a ToF (time-of-flight) ultrasonic rangefinder with a range of 4 centimetres to 1.2 meters," SparkFun notes. "What sets the CH101 apart from other ultrasonic sensors that we've seen in the past is that it's capable of ranging multiple objects within its field-of-view simultaneously. This is made possible by an integrated system-on-chip that crunches the numbers and then provides digital range readings via I2C."

As with the laser-based board, the Qwiic Chip 101 breakout includes two Qwiic connectors and solderable 0.1" header pins β€” though this time the sensor module itself is on a short ribbon cable, rather than integrated directly to the board, for ease of positioning.

In both cases, though, there's a big caveat: Neither the VL53L3CX nor the CH101 sensors have Arduino libraries available. Documentation is provided, along with sample C sources where available, but actually integrating the sensors is left up to the user. The two boards are also SparkX products, meaning they're "experimental" designs which may or may not move to a red PCB and full production status.

The Qwiic Multi Distance Sensor VL53L3CX is now available priced at $24.95, while the Qwiic Chirp 101 Ultrasonic Rangefinder is priced at $44.95.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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