3D Hybrid Time-of-Flight (ToF) image sensor provides a range of up to 30 meters

We’ve written about STMicro Time-of-Flight telemetry sensors several times over the year, including the latest VL53L8 which offers a range of up to 4 meters. But if your application would benefit from a longer range, Toppan and Brookman Technology have designed a three-dimensional range image sensor (3D sensor) capable of measuring distances from 1 to 30 meters. using a hybrid time-of-flight (ToF) method.

This method, proposed by Professor Shoji Kawahito of Shizuoka University, is a new detection technology combining the indirect ToF method of distance measurement by phase difference and the direct ToF methodology of measurement based on time differences. The hybrid method is said to be more tolerant of ambient light noise than the conventional indirect ToF method, especially outdoors.

Highlights of the hybrid ToF sensor:

  • Measure distances up to 30 meters, more than 5 times farther than conventional models
  • Noise canceling function to facilitate outdoor measurement. Each pixel is equipped with a function to eliminate external light components even when the illumination is around 100,000 lux, equivalent to daylight in the middle of summer (the range would be limited to around 20 meters in this case).
  • 120 fps high-speed imaging
  • Simultaneous operation of up to 256 cameras using a control technique to cancel signals from other cameras by treating them as ambient light.
infrared images
Indoor distance measurement
Hybrid ToF sensor measures outdoors
Outdoor distance measurements

The new ToF sensor will primarily be useful for autonomous drones and robot carriers, but may also find its way into smartphones and game consoles. In addition to the greater range, the hybrid ToF sensor addresses light tolerance issues that impact indirect ToF sensors, and Toppan expects the new technology to lead to further adoption in robots operating at the outside.

Details of this new type of ToF sensor technology were presented on June 15 by Toppan, Brookman Technology and Shizuoka University at IEEE 2022 Symposium on VLSI Technology and Circuitsand it’s not quite available yet with samples expected by December this year, and commercial devices slated for Q4 2023. Additional information can be found in the press release.

Thanks to TLS for the advice.

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Michael C. Garrison