Ultrasonic Distance Measurement Using Python – Part 1

LEDs, buzzers and switches are the most common items people attempt to interface to their Raspberry Pi’s. Something I found in eBay that is a little bit different is an ultrasonic measurement module. This allows you to measure the distance to the nearest wall or solid object. The modules are easy to buy, cheap and relatively straight forward to interface to the GPIO header.

So here is some information on my experiments with an Ultrasonic measurement module and Python. In future projects I can see these modules being a great way to add some intelligence to a Pi powered robot or car.

Ultrasonic Distance Measurement Using Python – Part 1

The HC-SR04 module cost approximately £3 ($5) and is the size of a box of matches. The two transducers give it a distinctive appearance. It is designed to be powered by 5V, has 1 input pin and 1 output pin. The module works by sending an ultrasonic pulse into the air and measuring the time it takes to bounce back. This value can then be used to calculate the distance the pulse travelled.

Connecting To The Pi

Powering the module is easy. Just connect the +5V and Ground pins to Pin 2 and Pin 6 on the Pi’s GPIO header.

The input pin on the module is called the “trigger” as it is used to trigger the sending of the ultrasonic pulse. Ideally it wants a 5V signal but it works just fine with a 3.3V signal from the GPIO. So I connected the trigger directly to Pin 16 (GPIO23) on my GPIO header.

You can use any GPIO pins you like on your RPi but you will need to note the references and amend your Python script accordingly.

The module’s output is called the “echo” and needs a bit more thought. The output pin is low (0V) until the module has taken its distance measurement. It then sets this pin high (+5V) for the same amount of time that it took the pulse to return. So our script needs to measure the time this pin stays high. The module uses a +5V level for a “high” but this is too high for the inputs on the GPIO header which only like 3.3V. In order to ensure the Pi only gets hit with 3.3V we can use a basic voltage divider. This is formed with two resistors.

Ultrasonic Distance Measurement Using Python – Part 1 SchematicIf R1 and R2 are the same then the voltage is split in half. This would give us 2.5V. If R2 is twice the value of R1 then we get 3.33V which is fine. So ideally you want R2 to be between R1 and R1 x 2. In my example circuit I used 330 and 470 ohm resistors. An alternative would be to use 1K and 1K5 values.

Here is a diagram of my final circuit. I chose GPIO23 and GPIO24 but you can use any of the 17 available GPIO pins on the GPIO header. Just remember to update the script.

Python Script

Now for the script to actually take some measurements. In this example I am using Python. Why Python? It’s my favourite language on the Pi so I tend to use it for all my experiments but the technique here can easily be applied to C. Cut and paste the script below into a text file and transfer to the Pi or download the script directly using this link.


For more detail: Ultrasonic Distance Measurement Using Python – Part 1

About The Author

Ibrar Ayyub

I am an experienced technical writer holding a Master's degree in computer science from BZU Multan, Pakistan University. With a background spanning various industries, particularly in home automation and engineering, I have honed my skills in crafting clear and concise content. Proficient in leveraging infographics and diagrams, I strive to simplify complex concepts for readers. My strength lies in thorough research and presenting information in a structured and logical format.

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