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The sensor uses an infrared LED to bounce light off objects in front of it and time how fast it takes for the light to return. You could do all this yourself with LEDs and light sensors, but the VCNL4010 wraps all that logic up into a stand-alone chip for you! With the VCNL4010 you can easily read the proximity (i.e. if an object is near or far) and even ambient light level over a simple I2C connection.