Research insights
ToF 3D sensors to accelerate AR application ecosystem formation, says Digitimes Research
Sean Lin, Taipei; Willis Ke, DIGITIMES

Time of flight (ToF) 3D sensors are emerging rapidly for massive consumer applications, prompting major semiconductor and optoelectronics players to join the supply chain and accelerating the formation of an AR application ecosystem, according to Digitimes Research.

ToF 3D sensors are replacing structured-light 3D sensors as the most popular sensing solutions for handset vendors, and can be integrated with AR devices to provide consumers with new-generation man-machine interactive experiences including motion capture and blurred boundaries between virtuality and reality.

Prior to consumer applications, 3D sensors had been mostly applied to industrial control, surveillance and robotic arms, with core technologies dominated by a few major suppliers. US-based Lumentum and II-VI have been major vendors of VCSEL chips for ToF signal transmission, while IDMs STMicroelectronics, Sony and Infieneon have dominated the supply of SPAD (single-photon avalanche diode) sensors and CMOS image sensors (CIS) for signal reception.

With 3D sensors gaining ground in consumer applications, many companies have jumped on the bandwagon, including Chinese VCSEL startup Vertilite and traditional LED makers such as China's Sanan Optoelectronics and Taiwan's Epistar, as well as Korea's Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix cutting into the CIS segment.

Smartphones featuring ToF 3D sensors can perform gesture recognition, identity verification and image optimization and simple AR functions. But both indirect and direct ToF (iToF and dToF) technologies have to be significantly improved and their killer applications have to be developed before ToF 3D sensors can rise to a new level of popularity.

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