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This paper deals with distance or level measurements based on ultrasonic time-of-fight estimation. Moving from a past experience concerning the proposal of a method based on discrete extended Kalman filter (DEKF) to overcome some limitations of already available ultrasonic-based techniques, a new digital signal processing method capable of granting further improvements is presented. The method is based on the unscented Kalman filter (UKF), which is a new extension of the Kalman filter theory mandated to face some DEKF problems, mainly due to its inherent linearization approach. To this aim, UKF is applied to the acquired ultrasonic signal in order to estimate the returned echo envelope as well as to locate its onset more accurately. After describing key features and implementation issues of the new method, the results obtained in a number of tests on simulated and actual ultrasonic signals, which assess its reliability and effectiveness as well as advantages with respect to the previous one, are given.