VL53L1X - Time of Flight

For many decades the human imagination has taken us to a place in the future where inhuman objects would be created by humans to carry out their mundane tasks. For example, we can go all the way back to 1900 when a tin man who cut down trees was introduced in the novel “The Wizard of Oz.” Or we can go forward from there to the 1960s with The Jetsons, the space age family who had many robotic counterparts who were ever at their bidding. Let us not forget the ever-famous Star Wars saga which made the scene in the 1970s with the robotic stars C-3PO and R2-D2.

Today, the “future” has become nothing short of reality. We are now living in a world where autonomous devices are just as common as vacuum cleaners and microwaves. We humans are created with the innate ability to sense the world around us. We can see it, taste it, touch it, smell it, and hear it. A “robot” must be able to do the same to function properly in our world. There are many sensors that have been created to mimic our ability to sense our world. Within those many sensors are several different ways to give a device “sight.”

One of the top technologies for “sight” is Time of Flight (TOF). This technology uses a waveform, such as sound or light, sent out from a device. The time taken for that waveform to return to the receiving side of the same device is recorded to provide the “Time of Flight.” STMicroelectronics has advanced this technology with their latest addition, the VL53L1 (497-17764-1-ND).

The VL53L1 chip utilizes an invisible (Class 1) laser emitter to send out the measuring waveform and a SPAD (Single Photon Avalanche Diode) to receive it. This provides a fast 50 Hz ranging frequency at a range of up to 4 meters. The chip is fully integrated and easy to interface with by using the P-NUCLEO-53L1A1 (497-17766-ND) expansion board which includes the NUCLEO-F401RE (497-14360-ND) STM32 evaluation board. Testing the chip is also made simple by using STMicroelectronics’ GUI (Graphical User Interface) designed specifically for their Time of Flight devices.

While the most common application for this product is UAVs (drones), the possibilities are endless. These could potentially be used for proximity sensing, autonomous vehicles, hands-free, and much more. For further information check out and if there are any questions, check out to the Digi-Key Electronics TechForum.

About this author

Travis Weesner, Associate Applications Engineering Technician at Digi-Key Electronics, has been with Digi-Key since 2008, recently moving into his current position where he is responsible for providing technical assistance to customers worldwide. Previously, he was a Supplier Pricing Specialist for semiconductors, where he learned about the applications for semiconductors specifically in the memory realm as well as some in the microcontroller realm. Travis holds a degree in Electronics Technology Automated Systems. While his tendency is toward semiconductors, he feels like sensors and automation are the wave of the future.

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