STMicroelectronics 3rd-gen ToF Sensor

STMicroelectronics recently released its third-generation laser-ranging sensor based on its industry-leading FlightSense(TM) technology. The VL53L1 sensor benefits from new patented silicon- and module-level architectures, adding for the first time, optical lenses to the module. This combination boosts core performance while ­introducing many new features including multi-target detection, cover-glass crosstalk immunity at long distance, and programmable multi-zone scanning. These advances deliver new levels of sensor performance to robotics, user detection, drones, IoT, and wearable applications.

With a form factor of 4.9 x 2.5 x 1.56mm, the sensor module integrates a new lens system, a 940nm VCSEL[1] invisible-light source, a processing core, and a SPAD[2] photon detector. The addition of the optical lens system increases the photon detection rate to boost the module’s ranging performance. The embedded microcontroller manages the complete ranging function and runs the innovative digital algorithms to minimize host-processing overhead and system power consumption, maximizing battery life for mobile applications.

“ST has already shipped hundreds of millions of Time-of-Flight sensors, which have been designed by OEMs into over 70 smartphone models as well as many other consumer devices,” said Eric Aussedat, General Manager of ST’s Imaging Division. “The third-generation FlightSense product uses its improved performance to support new applications, including human-presence detection, while continuing to improve sensor performance for existing use cases.”

The new VL53L1 performs a full measurement operation in as little as 5ms[3] for high speed applications. For autofocus applications in smartphones, the sensor detects objects twice as fast as earlier-generation devices. Moreover, the VL53L1 has doubled the maximum ranging distance of sensors to beyond 4.5 meters, ensuring it is well matched to the hyper-focal distance of widely used 21-megapixel camera optics.

The innovative new high-performance design architecture can detect multiple targets within the scene and also allows manufacturers to sub-divide the SPAD sensing matrix into custom-defined zones. These small zones can then provide spatial ranging information that the customer application can use for dual-camera computation in stereoscopy as well as simple depth-map use cases.

In contrast to technology used by other ranging sensors, ST’s new patented algorithms and direct Time-of-Flight architecture are immune to crosstalk at longer distances making the VL53L1 fully compatible with a larger selection of cover-glass materials and design artwork than before.

The I2C-based VL53L1 module comes with a full package of software drivers and documentation for quick and simple integration.

The VL53L1 is in production and available now. ST will demonstrate the VL53L1 in its booth (H7A61) at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Feb 27 – Mar 2.