STMicroelectronics Introduces World’s First All-in-One Multi-Zone Direct ToF Sensor Module

China, October 29, 2020 – STMicroelectronics (ST; NYSE: STM), a leading global supplier of semiconductors across multiple electronics applications, has expanded its FlightSense™ Time-of-Flight (ST) -Flight (ToF for short) sensor product lineup, launched the industry’s first 64-area ranging sensor. The multi-zone sensor divides the scene into several zones, helping the imaging system to better understand the spatial details of the scene.

This first-of-its-kind product integrates a 940nm Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL) light source, an SoC sensor with an integrated VCSEL driver, a single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) receive array, and a low-power 32-bit MCU core and accelerator running complex firmware. The VL53L5 retains Class 1 certification for all STMicroelectronics FlightSense sensors, making it absolutely eye-safe in consumer products.

The VL53L5 ToF sensor is packaged in a tiny module, and the optics on the receiving hole can create 64 ranging zones, unlocking many new capabilities and use cases.

Eric Aussedat, general manager of STMicroelectronics Imaging Business Unit, said: “The VL53L5 FlightSense multi-zone direct-to-fly ToF sensor uses our most advanced 40nm SPAD manufacturing process, the maximum ranging distance can reach 4 meters, and there are as many as 64 ranging areas. Helps the imaging system understand the spatial details of the scene. The VL53L5 has 64 times the range of the previous generation, which can greatly improve the performance of laser autofocus, touch focus, presence detection and gesture interfaces, while helping developers develop more innovative imaging applications .”

ST built a vertically-integrated manufacturing Model for the FlightSense sensor. The SPAD chips were produced in an advanced 12-inch fab in Crolles, France, using a proprietary 40nm silicon fabrication process, and all module components were assembled at ST’s packaging facility in Asia. This manufacturing method provides customers with superior product quality and reliability.

STMicroelectronics has established close relationships with major smartphone and PC platform vendors and has pre-integrated sensors on these platforms, allowing customers to better use the VL53L5 for application development. There are a number of Android and Windows device drivers available for FlightSense products. The VL53L5 is in volume production and has shipped millions of units to industry-leading wireless device and computer manufacturers.

Technical details

With every new product generation, ST’s ToF technology enables significant performance improvements for a variety of applications, including user presence detection for controlling wake and sleep on laptops or displays, and laser autofocus for smartphone cameras’ hybrid focus algorithms. Focusing, according to DXOMARK, an independent image quality review agency, most top-ranked smartphone cameras have built-in autofocus from ST’s FlightSense sensor.

The camera subsystem is the main factor that differentiates the performance of a smartphone, and the laser autofocus function inside the camera ensures fast and accurate focusing in low-light scenes or when shooting low-contrast targets. Low-light scenes, or low-contrast targets, are a serious challenge for conventional autofocus systems, but not for ST’s sensor. ST’s FlightSense laser autofocus embedded technology has been widely adopted by major smartphone OEMs and is currently shipping in more than 150 handsets.

The VL53L5 is packaged in a 6.4 x 3.0 x 1.5 mm module, with both transmit and receive lenses integrated into the module, extending the module’s diagonal field of view (FoV) to 61 degrees. This wide field of view is ideal for detecting objects that are not in the center of the image and ensures perfect autofocus in all corners of the image. For “laser autofocus” applications, the VL53L5 can collect ranging data for up to 64 areas across the entire field of view, supports “touch focus” and many other functions. This flexibility and variability greatly enhances the performance, convenience and versatility of smartphones/cameras.

Greater flexibility is available through the SPAD array, which can be set to give priority to spatial resolution, outputting ranging data for all 64 areas at a maximum speed of 15fps; The frame rate output is 4×4/16 ranging areas.

ST’s architecture automatically calibrates each ranging zone, and direct ToF technology enables detection of multiple targets per zone, independent of light reflected from the cover glass. In addition, the FlightSense scheme collects raw data through the SPAD array, performs post-processing through a proprietary embedded MCU and accelerator, and then transmits the ranging data to the system main processor through the I2C or SPI bus, so no specific camera is required interface and powerful receiver MCU, and ensure excellent quality and performance.

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