Time-of-flight ranging sensor for cameras, robotics, IoT

January 06, 2016 // By Graham Prophet
Promising to ‘revolutionise mobile-camera Performance and enable new applications in robotics and IoT, ST Microelectronics’ FlightSense VL53L0 low-power, miniature sensors can be used for fast autofocus in smartphones, for proximity sensing, and object detection

This is ST’s second-generation laser-ranging sensor based on its FlightSense technology. VL53L0, can range faster, over longer distances, and more accurately. In a form factor of 4.4 x 2.4 x 1 mm, ST says the VL53L0 is the smallest ToF (Time-of-Flight) module available, and the first to integrate a 940 nm VCSEL (vertical cavity surface-emitting laser) light source, a SPAD (single-photon avalanche diode) photon detector, and an advanced microcontroller to manage the complete ranging function. Being the market’s first module to use light emitted at 940 nm, coupled to leading-edge infrared filters, the VL53L0 maximises ambient light immunity and is now invisible to the human eye. The embedded microcontroller and digital algorithms minimise both the host processing and system power consumption in the final application.

“ST technology advancements in Time-of-Flight ranging sensors are enhancing the experience for millions of consumers, revolutionizing the way they take pictures and videos with their smartphones and tablets,” said Eric Aussedat, General Manager of ST’s Imaging Division. “ST introduced the first fully-integrated Time-of-Flight ranging sensor to the market in 2014, which was then successfully adopted by several leading OEMs for the laser-assisted autofocus function. Today, with the VL53L0, our next generation, ST is redefining the benchmark in ranging performance and creating the opportunity to develop new applications in robotics and the IoT.”

The VL53L0 is able to perform a full measurement operation in one image frame, typically less than 30 msec, at distances beyond 2m. With such performance levels the camera system can achieve instant focus in both video and burst modes, even in low-light or low-contrast scenes, which are especially challenging. VL53L0 also enhances smartphone applications including dual-camera-based depth-mapping and offers opportunities in robotics, user detection, drones, IoT, and wearables.