ST announces VL6180 proximity sensor for smartphones offering "unprecedented accuracy and reliability in calculating the distance between the smartphone and the user". Instead of estimating distance by measuring the amount of light reflected back from the object, which is significantly influenced by color and surface, the sensor precisely measures the time the light takes to travel to the nearest object and reflect back to the sensor. This ToF approach ignores the amount of light reflected back and only considers the time for the light to make the return journey.
ST’s solution is an infra-red emitter that sends out light pulses, a fast light detector that picks up the reflected pulses, and electronic circuitry that accurately measures the time difference between the emission of a pulse and the detection of its reflection. Combining three optical elements in a single compact package, the VL6180 is the first member of ST’s FlightSense family and uses the ToF technology.
"This marks the first time that Time-of-Flight technology has been made available in a form factor small enough to integrate into the most space-constrained smartphones," said Arnaud Laflaquière, GM of ST’s Imaging Division. "This technology breakthrough brings a major performance enhancement over existing proximity sensors, solving the face hang-up issues of current smartphone and also enabling new innovative ways for users to interact with their devices."
Update: ST backgrounder says that ST roadmap includes 2D and 3D ToF sensors. No other detail is disclosed.