Macro shot of Lidar sensor and triple cameras on iPhone 12 Pro Max 5G smartphone model by Apple Computers close-up of Pacific Blue mobile phone device featuring. Source: Adobe Stock
Taiwan-based Artilux Inc., the photonic technology IC designer, has partnered with TSMC to produce wide spectrum 3D ToF(time of flight) sensors adopting the 65nm process node with GeSi sensing materials enabling it to be the first CMOS-based ToF solution. The component will be adopted by smartphone clients earliest by the second half of 2021.
The android phones started adopting 3D ToF for the rear camera in 2019, and Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max also integrated new 3D ToF sensors to the cameras to offer better photography and AR experiences, showing that 3D sensor technology has great potential to be adopted in AR and consumer electronics. According to the market research report by Yole Developement, the global 3D imaging and sensing market will grow to US$15 billion in 2026, with 14.5% CAGR from US$6.7 billion in 2020, mostly owing to consumer electronics and the automotive industry.
Artilux has developed what’s claimed to be the world’s first wide spectrum 3D ToF(time-of-flight) sensor based on GeSi(germanium-on-silicon) photonic innovation. Operating at longer NIR(near infared) wavelengths, the sensor can be used in the area of the spectrum that is more than 10 times safer than the currently-used 940nm wavelength, as well as improving sensing accuracy and performance under sunlight.
In contrast to existing 3D sensors, which typically operate at 850nm or 940nm, the new sensor from Artilux can effectively cover the range from 850nm to 1550nm. The capability to detect both NIR(near infrared) and SWIR(short wavelength infrared) wavelengths has opened up new opportunities in applications such as LiDAR(light detection and ranging), 3D sensing, proximity detection, and AR(augmented reality)/ VR(virtual reality).
Artilux GeSi Wide Spectrum 3D sensor works at zone 2 and zone 3 to boost safety for consumers.
By utilizing this capability, the new sensor substantially reduces the potential risk of eye damage, since longer NIR wavelength radiation causes less or even no harm to the retina. According to the most recent findings, the power of the laser can safely be at least 10 times greater at 1200-1400nm than at 940nm, which improves performance without compromising on safety for long-range and highly accurate 3D imaging; it also means that the safe minimum distance of the laser from the eye can be further reduced to sub-centimeter. The use of longer NIR wavelengths also minimizes interference from sunlight and enables better performance in outdoor environments.
After announcing the commercialization of GeSi pixel for wide-spectrum 3D ToF(time-of-flight) sensing, Artilux has further pushed the wide-spectrum optical sensing technology boundaries by enabling GeSi pixel capable of ultra-sensitive photodetection on cost-effective CMOS technology platform achieving low-power consumption and safer due to operating at longer NIR(near infrared) wavelengths that are highly cost-effective at the same time.
According to the company’s white paper, Ge surfaces are harder to passivate and Ge wafers are more difficult to grow in large diameters, leading to Si-based technology such as CMOS transistor becoming the dominant technology and commercial success. But Artilux has overcome hurdles to realize GeSi-based technology on the CMOS technology platform.
All the breakthroughs are brought about by a new GeSi technology platform developed by Artilux in cooperation with TSMC. In the future, driver monitoring systems (DMS), LiDAR, MR and smart manufacturing may be areas for future applications.