Qualcomm Technologies unveiled a new image signal processor (ISP) and line of camera modules that promises to accelerate depth sensing in Android smartphones, XR headsets, and more. Depth sensing isn’t new to smartphones and tablets, first seeing significant use in Google’s Project Tango and Intel’s RealSense Technology. Tango used a laser-based implementation that measures roundtrip times bouncing off surfaces but requires a bulky lens on the rear of the device. Early Tango phones like the Lenovo Phab 2 were hindered by large size requirements as a result. Intel RealSense was featured in the Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet and allowed the camera to adjust depth of field and focal points after the image had been capturing. It used a pair of cameras and calculated depth based on parallax mapping between them, just as the human eye works.
Modern devices like the iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S8 offer faux-depth perception for features like portrait photo modes. In reality, they only emulate the ability to sense depth by use different range camera lenses and don’t provide true depth mapping capability.
New technology and integration programs at Qualcomm are working to improve the performance, capability, and availability of true depth sensing technology for Android-based smartphones and VR headsets this year. For the entry-level market devices that today do not have the ability to utilize depth sensing, a passive camera module was built to utilize parallax displacement and estimate depth. This requires two matching camera lenses and a known offset distance between them. Even low-cost phones will have the ability to integrate image quality enhancements like blurred bokeh and basic mixed or augmented reality, bringing the technology to a mass market.
The more advanced integration of the Qualcomm Spectra module program provides active depth sensing with a set of three devices. A standard high resolution camera is paired with both an infrared projector and an infrared camera that are utilized for high resolution depth map creation. The technology projects an infrared image with a preset pattern into the world, invisible to the human eye, but picked up by the IR camera. The Spectra image processor on the Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile platform then measures the displacement and deformations of the pattern to determine the depth and location of the items in the physical world. This is done in real-time, at high frame rates and high resolution to create a 10,000 data point “cloud” in a virtual 3D space.
Smartphones ready for Google’s ARCore should be the biggest winners of this advance in tech.
For more info, visit the QUALCOMM site.