Sony unveils new back-illuminated time-of-flight image sensor

    Sony will start shipping sample units starting April 2018.


    Sony Corporation has now announced the release of a back-illuminated, time-of-flight ("ToF") image sensor which is a 1/2-type sensor with VGA resolution designed to deliver improved depth sensing performance.

    Sony unveils new back-illuminated time-of-flight image sensor


    The new sensor is part of Sony's DepthSense lineup, a group of depth-sensing image sensor products with range finding capability, and it is the first product in the lineup to adopt a back-illuminated ToF configuration. Sony will start shipping sample units starting April 2018.

    The new product has been developed using 10µm square pixel process giving it a small size and highly accurate distance measurement performance from close to far distances, which can be used in a wide range of applications in many fields.

    Compact sensors that can provide accurate depth maps are used for various applications such as gesture recognition, object recognition, and obstacle detection, as well as for robotics and drones that require autonomous operations, or virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality systems, for which market expansion is anticipated.

    "With ToF technology the image sensor detects distance information for every pixel, resulting in highly accurate depth maps," the company said. "While conventional ToF sensor has difficulty in measuring far distances of approximately 10 meters, the new product comes with a sensitivity raising mode, enabling distance measurement with a high rate of detection at these distances."

    The new sensor adopts back-illuminated CMOS image sensor architecture which allows for more accurate detection of the reflected light because of improved sensor sensitivity. The company claims that it is also possible to capture high-precision depth maps in a VGA resolution at close distances of approximately 30 centimeters to 1 meter.

    Additionally, because this sensor captures depth maps for each frame, it enables image capture at a higher frame rate than when using a laser to scan the object for distance measurement. This reduces distortion of moving subjects in depth maps.

    Softkinetic Systems S.A., a Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation subsidiary was involved in the development of ToF image sensor technologies since its acquisition in 2015. However, the company has been renamed to Sony Depthsensing Solutions Holding SA/NV as of December 18.

    Sony states that the change in name was due to the fact that the integration of technological development processes went swiftly and the commercialization of products under the Sony DepthSense brand is now on track with the launch of this product. Sony plans to establish this company as an R&D base specialized in-depth sensing solutions, aiming to create ever stronger products.

    Key Features

    Delivers Highly Accurate Distance Detection

    As mentioned above the new sensor delivers high-resolution depth maps with a high degree of accuracy from a close distance of approximately 30 centimeters to a long distance of approximately 10 meters with a single ToF camera module.

    Suppresses Distortion of Moving Subjects

    Because this sensor captures depth maps for each frame, it delivers reduced distortion of moving subjects in depth maps, compared to using a laser to scan the object for distance measurement.

    Software Development Kit

    Software Development Kit

    A software development kit (hardware and software) will be provided with the sample shipment to make camera development easier. 


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