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Infineon, pmd expect new depth sensor will take flight with rest of 3D image sensor market

Chip expected to deliver high-accuracy biometrics


Infineon Technologies AG and pmd Technologies have teamed up to develop a new 3D depth sensor that will give smartphones and other devices a more accurate way to map environments for applications such as gaming, e-commerce and other immersive experiences. Augmented reality (AR) applications will use the chip’s capabilities for better face and object recognition, even in low-light conditions, meaning that biometric identification accuracy can take a leap forward as well.

Infineon’s is expecting the new REAL3 sensor to take wing in a fast-growing market. The 3D sensor market in smartphones for rear side cameras is expected to grow up to more than 500 million units per year until 2024, according to a forecast from Strategy Analytics cited by Infineon. These sensors make up a growing portion of the overall market for 3D imaging, positioning, and accelerometer sensor market, which is why global 3D sensor market size is expected to grow from $2.9 billion in 2020 to $10 billion by 2025, according to MarketsandMarkets.

Infineon says the time-of-flight (ToF) sensor is capable of mapping 40,000 depth points at up to half a meter for accuracy in object and facial recognition for picture taking and object scanning, while still achieving excellent accuracy at up to 10 meters range. For reference, the company’s previous generation of sensor was capable of 30,000 depth points.

Three-dimensional biometric security commonly uses infrared light to project a dense map of dots onto a face to create a “depth map” that’s unseen by the naked eye. Time-of-flight refers to one of the methods that can be used to measure objects by measuring how much time it takes for light to reflect back to the sensor.

“We think time of flight is the most scalable approach when it comes to 3D imaging,” said Philipp von Schierstaedt, senior vice president at Infineon Technologies, in a video presentation. In terms of face ID applications, “We see a pretty clear trend also on that side of the phone (the front/user facing side), that OEMs are asking for time of flight images, instead of structured light or stereo approaches,” he said, adding that ToF is easier to integrate. Another advantage: ToF sensors essentially require less compute power to start with, meaning the chip itself is less complex and doesn’t require as much power. Infineon says the new chip requires 40 percent less power than comparable chips.

The market’s appetitive for accurate 3D imaging is expected to accelerate in part because Apple’s newest generation of iPhone has announced that it is including LiDAR technology (a form of ToF measurement). In Apple’s case, the system uses lighting and reception technology from Lumentum that is tightly integrated with a CMOS imaging sensor from Sony, according to a report from EE Times.

Pmd Technologies is Infineon’s partner that is responsible for the ToF imaging component of the new sensor and claims to be the leading supplier to the global market for digital imaging sensors.  Pmd expects that smartphones will be the primary target market for the new sensor, but that other devices such as drones and heads-up displays in cars and other devices will make use of the technology as well.

Infineon said that volume delivery for the chip starts in Q2 2021, and that demo kits are already available.

The companies also partnered up with Idemia last year to develop a 3D facial recognition solution for OEMs to implement device unlocking and mobile payments.

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