The VL53L0X is a Time of Flight distance sensor like no other you've used! The sensor contains a very tiny invisible laser source, and a matching sensor. The VL53L0X can detect the "time of flight", or how long the light has taken to bounce back to the sensor. Since it uses a very narrow light source, it is good for determining distance of only the surface directly in front of it. Unlike sonars that bounce ultrasonic waves, the 'cone' of sensing is very narrow. Unlike IR distance sensors that try to measure the amount of light bounced, the VL53L0x is much more precise and doesn't have linearity problems or 'double imaging' where you can't tell if an object is very far or very close.
This is the 'big sister' of the VL6180X ToF sensor, and can handle about 50 - 1200 mm of range distance. It also includes a lux sensor. If you need a smaller/closer range, check out the VL6180X which can measure 5mm to 200mm.
The sensor is small and easy to use in any robotics or interactive project. Since it needs 2.8V power and logic we put the little fellow on a breakout board with a regulator and level shifting. You can use it with any 3-5V power or logic microcontroller with no worries. Each order comes with a small piece of header. Solder the header onto your breakout board with your iron and some solder and wire it up for instant distance-sensing-success!
Communicating to the sensor is done over I2C with an API written by ST, so its not too hard to port it to your favorite microcontroller. We've written a wrapper library for Arduino so you can use it with any of your Arduino-compatible boards.
In 'long range' mode you can detect as far as 1.5 to 2 meters on a nice white reflective surface.
Depending on ambient lighting and distance, you'll get 3 to 12% ranging accuracy - better lighting and shiny surfaces will give you best results. Some experimentation will be necessary since if the object absorbs the laser light you won't get good readings.