Lesson 13 · Allow Your Robot To See

Suggested Time: 60-75 minutes

Lesson Plan


In this section you will be learning how to add an ultrasonic sensor to your Barnabas Racer, which will allow it to see objects in front of it!

The Ultrasonic Sensor


Our ultrasonic sensor is going to give our robot the ability to sense the world around it. It almost looks like it’s staring at you, right? On the front side there are two large speaker-like objects. On its backside it has a lot of parts (resistors, capacitors, ICs). The only thing we need to worry about are those speaker-like objects and the four pins sticking out from the bottom of the board.

Those four pins are labeled Vcc, Trig, Echo and GND. The pin labeled GND, unsurprisingly must be connected to the GND pin on our Barnabas Uno board. The Vcc pin is the power pin of the sensor, so it will be connected to 5V of the Uno.

That leaves only the Trig and Echo pins to explain.

Uno and will be programmed as an output.

The Echo pin is an input pin. It will be used to listen for sounds coming back to the sensor. This pin will be connected to the Uno and will be programmed as an input.

Wiring The Ultrasonic Sensor

Placing Your Hardware

Before wiring your sensor, place your sensor onto your breadboard (see below).


  • Each of the four pins are on its own row (i.e. they are not connected with each other)
  • Make sure that none of the four pins of the ultrasonic sensor are in the same row as any other component (resistor, LED or button)
  • The speakers of the ultrasonic sensor are facing out in front of the car


Ultrasonic Sensor Wiring Chart

The wiring chart below shows the connections that we need to make between the ultrasonic sensor and the Uno.

Ultrasonic Sensor Uno Type of Connection
Vcc 5V Power (+)
Trig Pin 3 Output
Echo Pin 4 Input
Gnd Gnd Power (-)
Ultrasonic Sensor Uno Type of Connection
Vcc 5V Power (+)
Trig Pin 4 Output
Echo Pin 5 Input
Gnd Gnd Power (-)
Ultrasonic Sensor Wiring Diagram

Go ahead and wire your ultrasonic sensor based on the wiring diagram below.


Coding the Ultrasonic Sensor



Before we start coding, we need to first understand the science of how this sensor works. Let’s first go over how the ultrasonic sensor sends and receives signals. The diagram on the right shows how a sensor sends an outgoing sound to an object which is reflected back to the sensor when it bounces off the same object. The sensor does some math on the time that it takes the initial sound to come back to the sensor to find out how far away the object is. This is how animals like bats and whales use echo location to tell how far objects are.

The Math

Now that we know the science behind echo location, let’s use some math to figure out a formula to calculate distance from the sound.

We’re going to use a formula that gives us distance from time and speed.

Distance = Speed x Time

We know that the speed of sound in air is 340 meters/second, so if we know the time, we can then solve for distance!

You might think that our math is done, but not quite yet! If we follow the path of the sound, it needs to travel to the object, bounce off of the object, and then travel back to the sensor.

Therefore, the distance that the sound wave travels is actually twice the distance between the sensor and the object.

For that reason the equation describing the distance read by the sensor is as follows:

2 x Distance = 340m/s x time

This is the equation we will use in our computer code for the sensor to behave appropriately. If you’re using block-coding, you won’t need to code the formula as it is built into the block for you. However, it’s still good to know what is going on behind the scenes!

Reading the Distance

Our first coding challenge is to take what the ultrasonic sensor is reading and display it on our computer screen.

Note: The ultrasonic sensor uses pins 4 and 5 for trigger and echo connections, respectively.

int motb_pin1 = 3;
int motb_pin2 = 11;

int mota_pin1 = 9;
int mota_pin2 = 10;

int button_pin = 2;

int trig_pin = 4;
int echo_pin = 5;

void setup() {
  //-Control Motor B
  //-Control Motor A
  //- button
  //-ultrasonic pin

//-sends sound out and receives sound
//-returns the distance in centimeters
int ultrasonic() {
  long time;
  float distance;
  //-trigger a sound 
  // send out trigger signal
  digitalWrite(trig_pin, LOW);
  digitalWrite(trig_pin, HIGH);
  digitalWrite(trig_pin, LOW);
  //- a sound has gone out!!
  //- wait for a sound to come back
  time = pulseIn(echo_pin, HIGH);
  //- calculate the distance in centimeters
  distance = 0.01715 * time;
  return distance;


//- turn 90 degrees
void turnRight() {
  //- motor b is stopped
  //- motor a moves forward
  //- stop motor a

void turnLeft() {
  //- motor a is stopped
  //- motor b moves forward
  //- stop motor b

void stop() {
  //- motor a
  //- motor b

void moveToWall(int speeda, int speedb) {
  //- move forward!
  //- motor a
  //- motor b
  //-stop when you hit a wall!!
  int distance = ultrasonic();
  while (distance > 5) {
    //-do nothing except check distance
    distance = ultrasonic();

void moveForward(int speeda, int speedb, int inches) {
  int myDelay;
  //- motor a
  //- motor b
  //- move forward the distance in inches
  myDelay = inches*125;
  //- stop

void moveBackward(int speeda, int speedb) {
  //- motor a
  //- motor b

void loop() {


On Ardublock, we’ll need to use the ultrasonic block. When used, this block gives us the distance (in centimeters) between the sensor and the closest object that it sees. We need to take the number and display it using the “serial println” block.

fig 14.6

In the communication tab you’ll find blocks called “serial println” and “glue”. Combine them to make this simple program. Notice that the pin numbers settings in the ultrasonic block match the wiring diagram that we used to wire the sensor earlier.

fig 14.7

Now you can upload this code and open the serial monitor. You should see numbers flying by as the robot continuously writes the distance to the serial monitor. Perhaps including a delay block after the Serial.print command would be helpful in slowing down the rate that numbers appear. The numbers shown should change as you put your hand in front of the sensor, or point the sensor at various objects.

After uploading this code, go to the software window and click on the button that says Serial Monitor. After pressing this button, a window should pop up that begins to display numbers. Note that the Uno needs to be connected to the computer for these numbers to appear.

You should be able to see those numbers change as you point your robot towards different objects, or move your hand back and forth in front of it.

fig 14.8

Notice that your ultrasonic can only sense up to a certain range. Beyond that range the number that is returned to the computer becomes 0. Take your robot and computer in hand and walk up to a nearby wall. Point your robot at the wall and slowly start to walk backwards. Try and find the maximum range of your sensor by seeing what the biggest number it displays before reaching 0 is. The value should be between 200 and 300 cm.

Combine The LED And Ultrasonic Sensor

How about we use the LED in tandem with the ultrasonic sensor to notify us of the distance? The simplest code that allows us to do that is the following:

fig 14.9

The above code blinks a light on and off with the added wrinkle of having the distance measured by the sensor control the length of the blink.

Upload the code to test it. After uploading this code, you can power the robot using the 9V battery and experiment with the bot. You should see the light blink faster or slower depending on the distance between the robot and the nearest object.

If you experience erratic issues with the sensor or motors, try replacing the 9V battery. Note that some of the cheaper 9V batteries may not have enough charge to power the entire system. We recommend the Procell or Duracell brand.


Turn On When Close

Create code to turn the light on when an object is close and off when an object is far off.

Blinking With Intervals

Create code to blink the light at specific time intervals for specific distance intervals. For example, make the LED blink at 80ms intervals if the distance is less than 20cm, 160ms intervals if the distance is between 20cm and 40cm, and so on.

Hint: To do this you will need to make use of if and and. The and block allows you to have two conditions rather than just one, and asks if both are true.

fig 14.10

fig 14.11

fig 14.12

Additional Resources