For many of my applications I need to measure a distance. I have used ultrasonic sensors, but there view angle (beam) is not able to detect smaller objects, it very much depends on the object surface and angle, it is slow and not very precise. I have used infrared sensors, but here again it depends on the infrared reflection of the object in range, it depends the amount of reflected light is not really telling much about the distance, and yet IR reflection is subject of material and object targeted.
But there is yet another sensor type to consider: ToF! ToF (or Time-of-Flight) sensors have a built-in LIDAR: The sensor is sending out light pulses and measures how much time it takes for the light to come back. Similar to ultrasonic sensors (see “Tutorial: Ultrasonic Ranging with the Freedom Board“), but instead of ultrasonic it uses an infrared laser light. Or think about a radar system using an infrared laser light.