Picture of Distance measurement with radio waves
First of all, we want to excuse us for our bad English. (German pupils :D)
We invented a new, inexpensive device to measure distances up to 1.5km (about 1 mile) with accuracy about ±5 Meter (15 feet). The use of radio waves makes it possible to measure without the target being in sight. This means, you can measure distances through whole buildings.There are many rangefinders available, which are working with sound waves or lasers. A disadvantage of distance measurement with laser rangefinder is that you must center up the beam to the receiver and ensure that there are no obstacles along the laser beam.
Schematics and layouts are 100% own work, no copy and paste, only the transmitter and receiver modules had been bought.We already took part with this project in a German youth science competition called „Jugend-Forscht“ and won the 1st prize.
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Step 1: Step 1: Basic idea

Picture of Step 1: Basic idea
Step 1: Basic idea
To put it simply, the main part is an exact stopwatch, which measures time with a resolution in nanoseconds. It is used to stop the time the emitted radio wave is travelling. Because the spreading rate of radio waves is identical with velocity of light, you can calculate the distance between the two devices (measuring points) by a given travel time of the radio waves.The stopwatch contains a crystal with a clock rate of 30 Megahertz and a couple of decade counters (High- Speed CMOS). To display the stopped time, binary outputs of the decade counters must be converted to be easier readable on 7-segment-displays. The process of a single measurement:
1) The measurement is being initiated (started with a button) by the user at the basic station (1st point)
2) Counter starts, at exactly the same time a 434 MHz AM transmitter module emits out a 1st radio wave
3) The radio wave gets into the receiver at the 2nd point, and immediately starts the 2nd transmitter at a frequency of 868 MHz
4) The 868 MHz wave is being received at the basic station and stops the counter
5) The travelling time can be read on the display.
gvillenap7 months ago

Sir, my tesis is your project, is there anyway that we can have a small talk? I really appreciate some help with it. I was planing to use a uC arduino due (84 MHz) and 2 tranceivers (NRF24L01, 2.4Ghz) to comunicate them. but I found troubles in there. Please I really need some help. Thanks. Giancarlo

I am actually trying to do this as well. Have you found any success?

gocreeps14337 months ago

sir i would like to ask if i can use this transceiver.

UHF 2.pdf370 KB
gocreeps14337 months ago

sir you project was awesome and great.

i would like to ask sir if i can use a rf transceiver in this project and i'm confuse about the purpose of using a walkies talkie base on some comments that i have read. :)

ironstien7 months ago

can someone explain the use of all the schmitt triggers in the circuit ...

ve6cmm9 months ago

Another way to do this would be to modulate the transmitted signal, and have that modulation at the far end modulate the 800MHz signal. You could then compare the phase difference of the transmitted signal with the one received, change the modulation frequency if needed to get better accuracy, and you would also eliminate the RX to TX time at the far end. All measurements could be made at audio frequencies, a scope could be used to compare the sent and returned waveform, and would allow you to see any interference in the signal. There are lot's of great ideas for this scheme here! Thanks for getting me thinking.........

it seems to me that if you guys used walkie talkies conected to a microcontroler instead of building your own custom radios you would be able to have greater accuracy (maybe) and a lower cost

If people are looking for cheap radios to try this out, I can recommend the Baofeng UV-3R. It can be run at 1 or 2 watts, is dual band, VHF/UHF and I think 2 of them can be set up to work as a cross band repeater. The nice thing about these is that they are made in china and don't aim to comply with North American band plans, so they transmit on the entire vhf and uhf bands without restriction, which is great for finding and using "white space" where there will be no interferecne. They also have a simple VOX feature which could help with the cross band repeat.

Jones Electronic (author)  kurtzthegreat3 years ago
we didnt build our own radio, described on step 5, we bought some and i think the costs, about $75, are very low. another advantage of building it like we did you dont have to programm some microcontroller, in our point of view this way seems to be easier. and the accuracy depends only on our clock signal with 30 MHz, descibed in step 3.
but thanks for your request!
@Jones Electronics: dude can u just mail me a schematic with better quality and visibility to this e-mail address ""
here's the best schematic
thanks a lot bro.....I owe you one
Reiff1 year ago
Okay, obviously not for me, to complicated. I was looking for some way to find another persons (on a 2-way hand-held radio) approximate location. I always wondered if there is a simple way to find out where there direction is, or how far the other person is from my radio. Maybe there isn't a way, because I know tech people always like to say to dummy's "It's not magic" (isn't that right!).
sierahotel Reiff10 months ago

They call it Fox Hunting, but it's not a digital computerized method you might see on csi, Fox Hunters use directional yagi antennas and goal post-like dipoles and rotate the device to find the null points of the signal in attempts to figure out what direction it's coming from. Apparently it is not easy to learn and takes a lot of practice.

Could this device send a signal through an engine block?

No, you can't measure through an engine block using radio waves. If you've ever tried to get a gps fix in an area of tall buildings, you've seen the position jump wildly around, because a radio wave will eventually reach every point in space, but often takes a "long path" to get there. The longer flight time throws off the accuracy of measurements. Also, if the engine block is grounded, or acting as a ground, the radio waves will stop there and flow to earth, instead of passing through and continuing on to you're receiver.

Jones Electronic (author)  TheArsonator1 year ago

Of course it can! But i think it will weak the signal so it maybe not be able to transmit it more than 50 meters

Sweet. Does that affect the accuracy?

I'm Working on a very similar project using two arduinos with transmitters and receivers to measure their distance from one another. This post was a great help for the way I'll put the formulas in the algorithm inside programming.
For long distances though, atmospheric attenuation and dieletric materials contained along the waves path can change too much the final result.
I would advice a temperature e humidity component to adjust the calculations according to actual atmospheric conditions.
congratulations for your work !!

SirThaiSNU1 year ago
Thank for sharing Jones.
It is nice project. Can you upload the schematic at the second point? How can you connect RX433MHz and TX866MHz? Thank you.
drstichl1 year ago
Well, thanks to wikipedia :-) I could answer my question about the frequency myself, (868MHz = SRD, Europe)
drstichl1 year ago
Wow, wonderful and impressive project!

In fact, i've been looking for and thinking about something like this for quite a while. 5m range accuracy (or ~15ns timing accuracy) is quite impressive already, truely! Have you made progress, however, in improving on that? As far as I understand from your post(s), the crucial point is the counter, right? I'm no expert in elctronics (physics rather), but what about the other issues, trigger error, delay error, (...?), How much influence do they have?

Your 1st frequency (434MHz) is in ISM-A band. Is it correct that you need a license for that? For the second frequency I cannot find an ISM band, neither B nor A. What are the regulations for using that frequency? Would you think it possible, reasonable, to construct a similar system at lower frequencies, such as the ISM-B band at 13MHz, or even lower?

Thanks in advance for your reply!
halamka2 years ago
Maybe each character in a computer line is stored in a 1 x n matrix. That way, for example, a microprocessor can search for parenthesis. Then a division / search is made. It seems slow for a computer. There are no fast computers today. In 1970 there were fast computers that used "FORTRAN". The gates were set up ahead of time, called compiler.
halamka2 years ago
So, some of the 7 chips convert the binary to decimal. I guess a z80 microprocessor with 2 extra counters can display a 24 bit color picture. I guess a z80 microprocessor can read and write to a usb "flash " memory. Are there plans to produce COMMODORE Computers?????????
George.cn3 years ago
Hi Jones, I would like to build your circuit but the components list doesn´t match with the schematic, for instance you have 74HC4543 in parts list , I couldn´t find it in schematic, could you add more details please, thanks.
Jones Electronic (author)  George.cn2 years ago
We've used the 4511 instead of the 4543, they do the same things but have different pin connections, sorry for the confusion
could you mind to explain about circuit design..
rajesh932 years ago
chouskikou3 years ago
Hi guys, I am very impressed with your project, my son is trying to do something similar, do you mind me asking if you were able to purchase the transmitter receiver off the shelf, they need to buy something to achieve the distance measurement, they are in a project to measure the location of a book in a library so they need three of the counters and one receiver/transmitter board to emben within the book. any help appreciated

Jones Electronic (author)  chouskikou2 years ago
Hi Chris,
at the moment we're not able to produce some of this counters with the needed accuracy so you can use them and get reliable data. we've also have not testet the project with 3 of these module and got good data, sorry

Jones Electronic (author)  chouskikou2 years ago
Hi Chris,
at the moment we're not able to produce some of this counters with the needed accuracy so you can use them and get reliable data. we've also have not testet the project with 3 of these module and got good data, sorry

invent4you3 years ago

Good job!
I would like to build your circuit to use with a project I am working on. Can you explain the use of the 4040 ic's in the schematic?

Hey there,
tahnks a lot man !
The 4040 are used to count down the delay of the transmitter moduls. As you calibrate the circuit you will get a specific delay of these moduls. With these three counters you can "delete" this delay. It works like this:
While the set count (delay of the moduls) isnt reached is the second Flip-Flop not set, so the count Enable of the 4510 is HIGH.
As the 4040 reached their value the Enable Pin will be LOW, and the actual time of flight will be counted.

That is all. Simple but it works perfect :D
Hope you understood everything an knew now what the 4040 have to do in this circuit

It makes perfect sense. I have been evaluating transmitters and receivers and the issue I am working through, thought wise, is how to account for the differing delay interaction between some of the hardware. Thanks to you, I now know how. Thanks again for your help

Jones Electronic (author)  invent4you2 years ago
I hope I understood you the right way, you've got delays which are not constant. If this is your problem you've got a huge problem. My circuit only works with constant delays, which have to been measured at the beginning of a measurement and set with the 4040
I hope I could help you
gblewitt2 years ago
Not true. The intersection of 3 spheres has 2 points. Think of it this way. The intersection of 2 spheres is a circle. The intersection of a sphere with a circle is 2 points. If you are on Earth's surface, then the Earth effectively is a 4th surface that resolves the ambiguity between the 2 points. More realistically, just an approximate position will throw away the wildly inaccurate position.
udhayavanan3 years ago
hi jones. it is very nice. can you let me more informtion of your project. pls. kindly tell your mail id.
luogang3 years ago
hello, very nice projict. i'd like to coorperate with you to make this project more perfect and even make it a good tool in engineering. please sent me an email, looking forward your reply.
jwzumwalt3 years ago
I have been waiting to see someone tackle a radio range project. Some aircraft use "height above ground" measurement by using phase shift instead of time. A quick short RF burst is fired at the ground and a measurement is made of the reflected receiving pulse's phase shift. This method requires less precise electronics.

It probably would be quite simple for a low power/speed micro-controller to work. I belive there are some common chips that automaticaly calculate phase shift; perhaps out putting a voltage. Wouldn't it be nice if a low cost digital phase chip could be found.

Anyway, you did a nice job, thanks for sharing.
Of course we know this other method, but they use the reflection. doing so you only can measure the distance to the reflection object. With our project we can measure through most objects without any optical connection, like it needed by laser distance measurement. So this is our advantage.
But your also right, you could solve this problem by using a microcontroller. In our oppinion a microcontroller is much to much for this simple but intelligent project.
e2f13 years ago
Great piece of work. Can you let me have the supplier and part number for each radio module you used?
Also, did you go through any process of trial and error selecting radio modules until you found modules that would provide deterministic or fixed propagation delays at front and backend stages?
of course we went through this process. First we used radio moduls out of a garage opener, second moduls had been radio controlls used in RC Cars, and the best one, we use now, are two simple walky talkys build in 1980, which use very old transistors and no bit pattern. These bits and their accuracy is so unusable if you want to count some nanoseconds.
So just look up for some old walky talkys on ebay or so and have fun rebuilding our circuit
zioelp623 years ago
Cool idea, but IMHO you could achieve a much better reliability with a simple inversion of the principle: instead of sending bursts of waves and measuring the travel time of them, you could send a continuous stream of waves and measure the travel time of suitable "holes", i.e. blank periods. Doing so, the receivers are not allowed to catch RF noise, because they work on a strong, stable carrier. In practice, the sender and the receiver shall broadcast their own signal in short bursts of, let's say, 100 mS on / 1000 mS off, in order to obey the EMC rules about maximum spectrum occupation of 6 minutes per hour. According to your idea, as soon as the sender stops the 433 MHz signal, the receiver recognizes the "silence" and immediately replies by stopping its own carrier @868 MHz. The traveling time is now the interval between the first and the second silences. Furthermore, shifting the measure on the blanks will open some interesting possibilities, first of all the modulation of some ID signals. What do you think about that?
teddywa3 years ago
the schematic in step 5, it just lay out component, could you mail me the wiring schematic and the receiving measurement point 2 also,.
thank you,
carmaster3 years ago
Instead of using all those 74xx chips, why not use an Arduino?
Because it involves programming?
I think because they need to be able to respond to a 30Mhz ripple.
Arduino couldn't - could it?
Jones Electronic (author)  mobino3 years ago
maybe they can, but we've got no experience with these "high-tech" chips.
they would be very helpful to backup the previous measurements so we can realize diagramms or such things. so maybe in the future we'll include one
The arduino clock is ~20Mhz. It could be used in place of the drivers to collect data and log it to a PC via serial. It could be used to perform a large number of measurements without manual work. With 3 different measurements you could do on-board trilateration and output 3D coordinates.

Getting an accurate count of millions or billions of ripples is not something any AVR can do by itself. You'd need a high quality TDC for reliable nanosecond accuracy of time of flight measurement.

This project is very good for long distance measurements but indoor positioning (as an example) would benefit more form pre-recorded data for comparison and multiple layers of averaging. I only mention this cause a lot of people would love to have something like this for rover/robot remote control. Unfortunately rf travels a bit too fast. for open field navigation timing ultrasound is a better option.

For me this is interesting for land surveying. I'd love to get this down to 30cm. If you could design a 1ns counter. I'd build it - with arduino logging for 3 bounces. :)

GPS is this inverted.
static3 years ago
Congratulations on your first prize win. As refinement you might consider using sub-audible tones on the transmitters so the receivers would ignore signals that don't have the tone. The chances of other transmitters using the same tones as you do on two different frequencies would have to be very remote. The potential of interference will remain, but I believe their would be reasonable assurance that it was the control unit that triggered the remote unit, and it was your remote unit that the control unit received. Look up continuous tone-coded squelch system on the web, if you don't know what I mean by sub-audible tone.

Anyone here in the USA who desires to build this using the inexpensive 434 MHZ modules be aware though the chance of interference is slight.434 MHZ is in or near a band that the US military still uses for RADAR. 434 certainly falls into an allocation Amateur radio operators have secondary user status use in.
It would be good that you sell the PCB. I use Express PCB Express to make my boards They are very fast three days and I have boards in hand. They also the program to design PCB which is very easy to use. This program is free down load Tim
ARJOON3 years ago
too complex for me. still cool
smd75jr3 years ago
Could you upload/link to a higher resolution schematic please?
Jones Electronic (author)  smd75jr3 years ago
The schematic is displayed in a low resolution here. But here is the original size available.
Click on the little i in the upper left corner, you can open the full resolution image. This way, it's perfectly readable.

To the author: Very nice TTL-graveyard ;-) in a time, everyone uses PIC's or Atmels. (I know, they are to slow for this.) We used to measure frequencies, in thin film vacuum plating machines in a similar fashion. Or more precisely, frequency changes. We had a quarz crystal, which was exposed to the vapour source and changed it's frequency according to the film thickness. We used a 100MHz clock and a faster first stage counter. This way, we didn't count the actual frequency of the crystal, but it's wavelenght. So the change was read instantly. It used a i8086 to connect to a DEC PDP-11 Q-bus.
It had a 7 layer pcb, 25 years ago... i had to test / troubleshoot them with a 100MHz oszilloscope...
Jones Electronic (author) 3 years ago
the first picture shows our second version of the circuit
the second one shows the back side of it
the 3rd one is our second measure point, which receives the signal and sents it on another frequency back
the last one is the backside of our first verion circuit board
Oberseite Platine gesch��nt klein.jpgr��ckseite Paltine verzinnt 2 klein.jpgR��cksende-Modul klein.jpgUnterseite Lochraster klein.jpg
A great project.
Your English is very good, but may I suggest one little alteration.
Just call the "die Rueckseite" only "the back", as the "backside" would translate in German roughly "der Hintern".
Greetings from Australia,
Paul K (native German)
vatosupreme3 years ago
Nice project.

Could you possibly add the schematics as a pdf so we could download them? When I enlarged the photo, it was blurry so I am having a difficult time with it.


Jones Electronic (author) 3 years ago
Please guys, all you viewed this project please rate it!

We'll keep you up to date with our testings and developing!
mobino3 years ago
Can you explain your example calculation in more detail?

How do you get 560ns from the displayed 17?

Also, how is a nanosecond timer achieved with 30Mhz?

A 10ns timer could be achieved with 100Mhz (10ns cycle time)

a 30Mhz cycle is aprox 33ns

never mind I answered my own question :)
17 * 33ns = 561ns

I like it

what does the circuit for the far side look like?
Jones Electronic (author)  mobino3 years ago
your self-answered question was right 17(displayed) * 33ns (from the 30MHz) = 561. so with the accuracy of this crystal we calculated with 560ns. this is acceptable at a resolution of ±5 meter, we dont care of one meter (1ns) more or less.
we described this as a timer which counts in nanoseconds, not in one nanosecond, sorry for this mistake!
we'll post some new photos from our new circuit and the second measure point soon, please feel free to contact us if you've got more questions
uberdeity3 years ago
Hey, guys- excellent article!

I used to work on underwater positioning systems, and they're basically the same except with sound rather than radio waves. Your system would be called "Long BaseLine" or "LBL" positioning and- using just sound in water- can provide a 3D positional accuracy of about 4mm.

Could I suggest adding a microcontroller on the receiver element? This would let you give each receiver an address and make your trilateration a bit easier as you could interrogate multiple measuring points from a single base station without having to use a wide range of frequencies.
Also, as others have suggested, if you encoded your signal (for example using RPSK) you could get a much more reliable signal.

Also, have a look at using _multiple_ 868MHz receiver elements spaced less than 1 wavelength apart- you would use your current timing setup to get the distance of your measuring point, but you could also use the phase difference between the received signals being received at the base station to calculate the bearing between your base station and the measuring points.
This would allow you to achieve trilateration with only one base station and one measuring point (this is called USBL, or Ultra Short BaseLine positioning).

Hope these ideas help!
Really interesting article!
Keep up the good work!

teddlesruss3 years ago
Older aircraft DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) used a precision ramp voltage generator, sent a pulse and started the ramp generator, the base station received the pulse, waited a fixed few microseconds and then sent a reply pulse, and the DME stopped the ramp generator and the distance was proportional to the voltage. It was, if I recall, pretty accurate fro its time. (Which was early 70's) The amusing thing for me as a young trainee was the name of the high impedance precision ramp generator - it was referred to in the circuits as the "phantastron" circuit. I found out that this is a legit name, BTW.
That's fantastic! Good job.
geonav13 years ago
Your project is amazing! Wonderful work- please keep going and continue to share your experience.

mwilhelm3 years ago
herzlichen Glückwunsch!!

i am also experimenting with RF and some ideas popped up while reading your paper.

1.have you tried mirroring the radio signal, but instead of only one time (up and down) do it 100 times, and then instead of dividing que time /2 do it /200, that could give you more precision i hope. could also encript your signal to avoid problems if other radio waves interfere, instead of sending a "pulse" , send a "word" or a "byte" or something less likely to be sent by other people. This will add some time to your measurings, but you can always calibrate it and you will be able to measure using the same radio band frecuency on all the devices.

keep up the good work!
Jones Electronic (author)  mwilhelm3 years ago
at this time we are working on a second version. the main topic there is to increase the range, using two radio gears used in RC hobbie with 2,4 GHz transmission frequency. as this works we will think of increasing the transmission stability and fix some other problems we already discoverd or going to discover.
Thanks for your positive feedback and we are looking forward to improve our work with your comment!
happer3 years ago
great job guys
Jones Electronic (author)  happer3 years ago
Thanks a lot!
Musicman413 years ago
I like the idea. For many applications, it would work well. However, one problem I could foresee for triangulation is that the device that is located would have to be able to transmit a long distance, not just receive. This means less battery life. Other than that, great idea. I have though of doing something like this, but a different way. Instructable may be in the making.
Jones Electronic (author)  Musicman413 years ago
i dont think power consumption is a big problem, like it wrote it in a other comment we can reduce the consumption from 800mA to about 100mA using LCD display instead of LED Displays.
We try to develop a second version using two radio gears used in RC hobbies, but i am also looking forward to your idea. Just write me a message as you developt your one. Thanks for your possitive feedback!
bulsatar3 years ago
The first thing I thought of was squad based maneuvers in an enclosed city area. Each squad could run on their own frequency and each squad member could use their HUD to show them where the other members are through icons that can increase/decrease with distance and such. With each member being the sender/receiver that helps to triangulate the position of everyone else at the same time.

From a quick glance at the electronics, it looks like you could easily shrink down the package to something no more than a cigarette pack (including battery). Definitely on to something with this one, great job!
Jones Electronic (author)  bulsatar3 years ago
sure we can bring this down to a format like a cigarett pack, also the power consumption, about 800 mA with the LED Displays switched on, can be reduced to maybe 100mA using a LCD display. The Power consumption of the transmitter is acceptable, about 50mA.
Thanks for your great idea to use it !!!
omnibot3 years ago
This could really come in handy on spaceships. It's tricky enough to find exact positions in huge spaces by comparing relative positions of moving objects. A couple of these as beacons in stationary or slow orbit around the sun could potentially solve that problem. Way to go.
Jones Electronic (author)  omnibot3 years ago
Great idea, also a resolution of ±5m is more than acceptable in these "worlds" xD
E_MAN3 years ago
WOW, i was just working on a triangulation system similar to this, but slightly more complicated. And uses an atmega168 for part of the process. It is basically three of the modules of explained how to build in this Instructable plus 3 of these and a bridged wireless router, a normal wireless router and a computer. The computer processes all the data sent from the atmega168s and sends it back out over the wireless. This data can be received using an web device, I-pod touch or laptop. I will be posting an Instructable as soon as all of the parts shipped.
Jones Electronic (author)  E_MAN3 years ago
we also thought about using WLAN or bluetooth but we've got problems with the delay of these systems. we've also got this delay at our transmitter but it's constant so we were able to "remove" this time using a free settable pre-counter. how did you realize this?
Each one does it separately, they just send the output over the LAN.
76543213 years ago
Wait, you said it can measure through buildings and stuff, then how does it know which object you're trying to measure?
Jones Electronic (author)  76543213 years ago
as it's described in Step 1 we've got the basic station and a receiver for 434 MHz combined with a Transmitter for 868 MHz on the second point. So we measure the time between these two. Because we measure this time twice, first one from the 434 MHz transmitter to the receiver and the second from the 868 MHz transmitter to the receiver we had to divide the measured time by 2, like it's described in Step 2.
I hope this helped you to understand it better!
Thanks for your request
Haha, I feel stupid, must have missed that part. Cool project
jensenr303 years ago
This is awesome. This man needs a free pro membership.
Jones Electronic (author)  jensenr303 years ago
thanks a lot man
Sorry PhilB, but there is a difference between triangulation and trilateration.
See wikipedia :-)
Phil B3 years ago
Thank you for publishing this. Your English is quite good. Anyone who would criticize your English should try explaining something technical in a language other than his mother tongue and see how difficult it is. In English we would probably say "triangulation" (from "tri-" and "angle" [der Winkel]) rather than "trilateraration," but the reader can easily understand what you mean. Also, in step 6 the graphic contains the word "Empfänger." Some may not know that means "receiver." I do not know many high school students in the USA who would know what distance estimation by triangluation is or how it works, let alone be able to design and build a device to perform it. You are to be highly commended.
schkip19733 years ago
this is a really impressive 'ible - well done.

you have examined the theory and performed an expiement to validate your hypothesis. Your electronics is good too.

Congratulations on your accolade - well deserved.