STMicroelectronics has announced its newest FlightSense time-of-flight (ToF) ranging sensor for smartphone camera management and augmented/virtual reality. The new ToF module offers up to twice the ranging performance while reducing the power consumption by half compared to the previous generation device, when operating in the same conditions.
“ST’s ToF technology has enjoyed massive commercial success, now shipping in more than 200 smartphone models and 100 PC, projector, and robotic products. Now, VL53L8 FlightSense sensor takes ranging performance and power efficiency to new levels,” said Eric Aussedat, executive vice president and general manager of the Imaging Sub-Group within ST’s Analog, MEMS and Sensors Group. “Our latest generation ranging sensor is a game changer. With its innovative metasurface lens technology and power-efficient architecture, it reduces battery loading, extends camera autofocus ranging, and enhances scene-understanding features.”
Developed in partnership with Metalenz, the world’s first optical metasurface technology enables optical systems to collect more light, provide multiple functions in a single layer, and deliver new forms of sensing in smartphones and other devices, all in a compact package. Unlike traditional moulded and curved lenses, Metalenz’s novel optics are completely planar. Planar metasurface optics are now being manufactured on silicon wafers alongside electronics in ST’s semiconductor front-end fabs for the first time. The meta-optics collect more light, provide multiple functions in a single layer, and enable new forms of sensing in smartphones and other devices, while taking up less space.
The module is ideal for smartphones and tablets in both user-facing and world-facing applications, but also for accessories in the personal electronics segment like smart speakers and AR/VR/MR. The user-facing applications include object tracking and gesture recognition. World-facing applications include laser-autofocus, camera selection, touch-to-focus, and flash dimming. The sensor can also support indoor/outdoor detection and smart-focus bracketing, as well as consumer LiDAR, where depth mapping is required.
The module embeds a high output 940 nm VCSEL light source, a SoC sensor with an embedded VCSEL driver, the receiving array of SPADs, and a low-power 32-bit MCU core. The VL53L8 adopts a metasurface lens technology in both the transmit and receive apertures. Moreover, like the VL53L5, the new sensor delivers 16 or 64 discrete ranging zones with stable and accurate improved ranging.
The VL53L8 builds upon the innovations delivered by ST’s previous ToF sensors including VL53L5. This second-generation ranging sensor incorporates an efficient optically diffractive metasurface lens technology. Combining a new VCSEL driver three times more capable than the previous generation with an efficient VCSEL, the VL53L8 can, in comparable conditions, deliver twice the ranging performance of VL53L5 or reduce power consumption by 50%. It delivers this performance while maintaining the same field-of-view and discrete output-ranging zones being 4x4 at 60 frames per second or 8x8 at 15 frames per second.
For easy system integration, the sensor is housed in a single reflowable component that offers 1,2 V and 1,8 V I/O compatibility and significantly reduces the host processor loading over the demands of the first-generation sensor.
Like all other FlightSense ToF proximity sensors, the VL53L8 retains an IEC 60825-1 Class 1 certification and is fully eye-safe for consumer products with an advanced lens detach detection system.
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