Sensor use to detect obstacle

I have found many papers on using a sensor skin (large numbers of IR
sensors) on a robot arm to detect an obstacle to avoid any collision.
I was wondering whether it is possible to use minimal numbers of
sensors to do the same purpose, i.e, measure the distance from the
robot arm to the obstacle which ultimately using the developed
software to compare it to a threshold value? If the measured distance
is less than the threshold, then collision is detected and the robot
would be ordered to stop operation or change path.
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