Friday, November 03, 2023

Dr. Robert Henderson's lecture on time-of-flight SPAD cameras


Imaging Time: Cameras for the Fourth Dimension

Time is often considered as the fourth dimension, along with the length, width and depth that form the fabric of space-time. Conventional cameras observe only two of those dimensions inferring depth from spatial cues and record time only coarsely relative to many fast phenomena in the natural world. In this talk, I will introduce the concept of time cameras, devices based on single photon avalanche diodes (SPADs) that can record the time dimension of a scene at the picosecond scales commensurate with the speed of light. This talk will chart 2 decades of my research into these devices which have seen their transformation from a research curiosity to a mainstream semiconductor technology with billions of SPAD devices in consumer use in mobile phones for depth sensing autofocus-assist. We will illustrate the talk with videos and demonstrations of ultrafast SPAD cameras developed at the University of Edinburgh. I am proud that my group’s research maintains the University position at forefront of imaging technology which has transformed our lives, seeing the transition from chemical film to digital cameras, the omnipresence of camera phones and video meetings. In the near future, SPAD-based time cameras can also be expected to play a major societal role, within optical radars (LIDARs) for robotic vision and driverless cars, surgical guidance for cancer and perhaps even to add two further dimensions to the phone camera in your pocket!

Robert K. Henderson is a Professor of Electronic Imaging in the School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh. He obtained his PhD in 1990 from the University of Glasgow. From 1991, he was a research engineer at the Swiss Centre for Microelectronics, Neuchatel, Switzerland. In 1996, he was appointed senior VLSI engineer at VLSI Vision Ltd, Edinburgh, UK where he worked on the world’s first single chip video camera. From 2000, as principal VLSI engineer in STMicroelectronics Imaging Division he developed image sensors for mobile phone applications. He joined University of Edinburgh in 2005, designing the first SPAD image sensors in nanometer CMOS technologies in the MegaFrame and SPADnet EU projects. This research activity led to the first volume SPAD time-of-flight products in 2013 in the form of STMicroelectronics FlightSense series, which perform an autofocus-assist now present in over 1 billion smartphones. He benefits from a long-term research partnership with STMicroelectronics in which he explores medical, scientific and high speed imaging applications of SPAD technology. In 2014, he was awarded a prestigious ERC advanced fellowship. He is an advisor to Ouster Automotive and a Fellow of the IEEE and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.


  1. Wow, such a nice presentation! Robert is a legend of the field!

  2. I don’t know anyone more knowledgeable, more down to earth and nicer than Robert in the image sensor community. Such a legend.

  3. I always say it with great pride to have had the opportunity to have Robert Henderson as PhD supervisor. And I couldn't be more thankful for all I learnt from him, for his mentorship and for just being a great person to work with!
    Hope I get a chance soon to meet him again and talk about SPADs :D
    Ad maiora! :)


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