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Qualcomm to launch advanced depth-sensing chip
August 20, 2017, 1:03 pm

Leading chip manufacturer Qualcomm released last week details of its next flagship Snapdragon processor, including its advanced depth-sensing abilities. 

Along with improvements to things like noise reduction and video stabilization, one of the biggest additions to its second-generation image signal processor, Spectra, will be support for several new camera modules with advanced sensing features. Last year, with the Snapdragon 835, Qualcomm launched the Spectra Module Program, which offered manufacturers pre-built and pre-configured camera setups for companies to just slot right into phones using a Snapdragon processor. Now, with its upcoming second-generation Spectra image processor, Qualcomm is offering three new modules: one with iris scanning, one with passive depth sensing, and one with active depth sensing.

The iris scanner is perhaps the most familiar as it is already implemented in Samsung’s Galaxy S8, but Qualcomm says the new version will offer improved performance and accuracy, including the ability to successfully avoid being spoofed by images or molds of people’s eyes.

The passive depth sensor also works in a fairly standard way. It uses two camera lenses, spaced slightly apart, to let the phone compare two images and piece together the depth of objects in stereo, similar to how human eyes tell how far away something is.

But the most interesting of the three may be the active depth sensor, which uses an infrared illuminator to shine a pattern of thousands of IR dots, which an IR sensor can then view. By determining distortions in the pattern of dots, the phone can map depth far more accurately than the passive system. Then, the regular camera is used to provide normal color to the image, allowing an accurate 3D image to be created almost instantly. In addition to the improved accuracy, the active IR system also has added benefits of working in low-light situations, too.

Qualcomm hopes that phone companies will use the new sensors to further AR and VR on phones, as well as more secure face unlocking than what is currently provided by traditional cameras. Qualcomm is expected to announce more information on the next flagship Snapdragon processor later this year, with the first devices offering it — as well as the new Spectra camera modules — expected to ship sometime in 2018.


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