Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Sony, Panasonic Bet on ToF Sensors

Bloomberg quotes Satoshi Yoshihara, GM of Sony image sensors division saying on 3D image sensing: "This has the scale to become the next pillar of our business."

"The most immediate impact from TOF sensors, which will be fabricated at Sony’s factories in Kyushu, will probably be seen in augmented-reality gadgets.

“Sony has everything technology-wise to address the market,” said Pierre Cambou, an imaging analyst at Yole. “They shouldn’t have a problem gaining a large share in 3D.”

When Sony decided to gamble on time-of-flight sensors three years ago, it faced a choice between building or buying the technology. In 2015, Sony decided to acquire Softkinetic Systems, a small developer of TOF sensors.

“When our engineers and their engineers talked about collaborating, we realized we could come up with an amazing sensor,” Yoshihara said of the merger. “In terms of both (chip) performance and size, we can achieve another breakthrough.”

Alexis Breton, a spokesman for STMicro, declined to comment, pointing to recent data showing that it’s shipped more than 300 million TOF chips. STMicro’s revenue from the division that mostly includes the sensors was $295 million last year.

Panasonic too presents a number of 3D ToF cameras:

Basler uses Panasonic ToF sensors in its 3D cameras. The company's ToF products marketing manager Jana Bartels explains the camera features:


  1. The article mixes two types of TOF segments which don't compete - depth sensors (Sony, Panasonic) with pixel counts in the 10s of K and higher, and range finders of ST which are a few pixels (and are even a different technology of SPAD). Maybe the two will in compete in the future, but right now the two companies are staking out different areas and not competing.

    And it mentions Basler, which is a high-end, low-volume machine vision play, but not PMD/Infineon, which was in the Tango products of Lenovo and Asus, as well as several AR products already shipping or just launched, higher volumes than Basler or Panasonic even target.

    It is sort of like someone talking about "image sensors" and saying Sony and Fairchild compete because they both have pixel technology, then not mentioning OVT, Samsung or other major players.

    1. Actually, it's all about news: Sony and ST gave some info for the Bloomberg article. Panasonic too presented some news recently. And Basler is the only Panasonic ToF CCD customer who openly admits it. This is the reason that Basler video is here.

      As for PMD/Infineon, I have not seen any recent news, other than occasional generic slides in Infineon quarterly reports and Tango project closure.

  2. When do folks think cam makers will put TOF sensor on MILC cameras? That way users can have portrait mode for artificial bokeh w/o spending on expensive glasses to get shallow DOF.

  3. Baseler had TOF camera using Panasonic MN34902BL sensor. I heard MN34902BL is CCD and VGA resolution. Does this image sensor has 2 gate on 1 pixel? or just normal CCD sensor?
    I could not find its datasheet or brief spec.


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