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Apple patent details new ToF depth camera system for improved face biometrics

Samsung working on developing its own ToF sensor

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A newly published Apple patent application hints that the soon to be released iPhone 12 will come equipped with an advanced Time-of-Flight (ToF) depth camera for facial biometrics and other applications, similar to one displayed in the latest Samsung Galaxy S20 series, writes Patently Apple.

The new advanced system would provide optimized Face ID and enhanced clarity for future implementations such as AR experiences and in-air gestures. The technical invention can be reviewed in the two detailed patents 20200256669 and 20200256993.

Apple believes there is a growing need for real-time 3D imagers, also known as depth sensors, mappers or light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors that measure target scene depth through optical beams and reflected optical signal analysis. Time-of-flight (ToF) is a common measurement technique that ensures higher clarity for Face ID imagery, especially at night. This type of camera collects four times more data than older technologies such as 3D scanning, according to the report. It could also be used for indoor navigation and to blur backgrounds in portrait mode.

A ToF camera is available on Samsung’s Galaxy S20+ and Ultra smartphones, but Samsung Galaxy S30 will not come with a 3D ToF sensor, Android Central reports. The publication says the sensor in S20 is far behind Apple’s technology, which is likely why Samsung has decided to not add it to newer smartphones and instead is working on an upgraded version that can rival Apple’s sensor. Samsung has said that a lack of “killer content” is why it chose to drop the sensor for now.

“While Apple uses a ‘direct’ ToF sensor with a LiDAR module, Samsung’s sensor uses ‘indirect’ ToF,” Android Central explains. This makes Apple cameras capable of capturing 3D images up to six meters away, twice as far as Samsung’s sensor.

Both Samsung and Apple buy the ToF sensor components from Sony, while Apple claims to have an exclusive contract for the technology. Samsung is allegedly working on a proprietary ToF sensor that will leverage the indirect ToF technology but will have an improved measurement range. It is not excluded from possibility that Samsung will bring back the sensor in future phones. For now, the next smartphone will display a 150MP primary camera.

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