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TrendForce forecasts that IR sensors for smartphones market to reach US$145M this year

TrendForce estimates that the infrared (IR) sensor modules for mobile devices global market will reach US$145 million in 2017, driven by the proliferation of high-end smartphones adopting 3D sensing technology.

A 3D sensing solution comprises of an RGB camera module, infrared (IR) sensor technology that uses VCSEL (vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser) as a light source.

Several upcoming smartphones are expected to feature facial recognition capabilities based on 3D sensing technology, including Apple’s iPhone 8.

“Acquiring and processing data of 3D models is quite burdensome for smartphone hardware, especially if models are to be constructed in precise detail,” TrendForce wearable analyst Jason Tsai, said. “To have a 3D facial recognition feature with an acceptable response time, smartphone makers are probably going to enhance the existing 2D facial recognition solutions with 3D sensing. Therefore, 3D sensing will be a supporting technology that mainly helps to determine whether the face that is being recorded comes from a real living person.”

For the most part, 3D sensing-based solutions obtain dimensional data including depth values by scanning the environment within a defined range.

The collected data generates digital 3D models that can be compared against reference models in the database.

However, it will take a considerable amount of extra computing power and time to extend the scanning range and achieve greater depth details of objects.

“Scanning range and modeling capability have positive relationships with hardware specifications,”Tsai said. “In the realm of AR for mobile devices, applications are still too few to warrant the hardware cost for 3D sensing. There is also the issue of increasing power consumption. Consequently, smartphone makers are not too keen on using 3D sensing for AR-based features because this kind of innovations do not significantly increase the value of their products.”

3D sensing can reinforce user security by improving the accuracy of the device’s facial recognition function by ensuring that the captured facial image is that of a living person and not a static photo.

“3D facial recognition for smartphones must be fast enough so that it can assist in tasks such as unlocking the device, mobile payment and identity verification,” Tsai said. “Convenience and response time are just as important as accuracy in the adoption of new biometric technologies. Otherwise, consumers would still prefer passwords and fingerprints.”

The use of 3D sensing components will drive up hardware cost for smartphone manufacturers, which means that this technology will only initially be available for the high-end market segment.

However, more smartphones will gradually introduce 3D sensing in the near future, Tsai said.

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