Qualcomm Is Bringing Advanced Depth Sensing Capabilities To Next-Generation Android Phones

Qualcomm is bringing advanced depth-sensing technology to the Android ecosystem, and doing so in a big way. Through the expansion of its Spectra Module Program, Qualcomm's camera technology will introduce a host of goodies to Android devices, including improved biometric authentication, high resolution depth sensing, and multi-frame noise reduction for superior photographic quality snapshots.

"Whether used for computational photography, video recording, or for computer vision applications that require accurate motion tracking, it’s clear that power efficient camera image signal processing has become more important for the next generation of mobile user experiences," said Tim Leland, vice president of product management, Qualcomm Technologies Inc. "Our breakthrough advancements in visual quality and computer vision, combined with our family of integrated Spectra ISPs for Snapdragon, are designed to support an ecosystem of cutting edge mobile applications for our customers."

Qualcomm Cameras

Qualcomm has been pushing the envelope in terms of mobile phone photography through its Spectra camera ISP, which it introduced with its Snapdragon 820 system-on-chip (SoC). Initially the company focused its attention on the basics, such as improved auto-focus performance, along with auto-exposure and auto-white balance for better looking photos. But that was just the beginning.

The second-generation Spectra ISP from Qualcomm utilizes new hardware and software designed specifically for advancements in computer vision, image quality, and power efficiency in Snapdragon chipsets. As part of that, active depth sensing is perhaps the most exciting aspect.

Qualcomm Spectra Slide

As phone makers move away from integrated home buttons with fingerprint scanners, facial recognition is emerging as the next big thing. To that end, Qualcomm's advancements in camera technology will allow for more reliable iris recognition for phones powered by its Snapdragon platform.

Beyond advanced security, what is really impressive is the level of depth sensing—Qualcomm's new hardware and software is capable of collecting over 10,000 points of depth, and that is a conservative number, the company says. This will be the first of its kind to be made available to the entire Android phone ecosystem through its Camera Module Program.

Qualcomm says the space between data point is just 0.1mm at the highest resolution, which also makes it the most accurate available on the market. In the video above, you can see how all those data points are assembled for a 3D representation.

Qualcomm Depth Sensing Slide

How this all works is rather interesting. Not only does Qualcomm utilize multiple camera sensors for sensing depth, it also projects an IR pattern on a stationary target to infer 3D depth. This provides a 3D map without having to move the camera all around, and also allows for better 3D mapping in low light situations. The range of the IR illuminator that Qualcomm is working with is 3-4 meters.

The chip maker views depth sensing as the next frontier in smartphones. Qualcomm also believes that depth sensing will revolutionize standalone VR and AR headsets as tracking and object avoidance becomes more precise, making hand-held controllers obsolete. This is where Qualcomm's second generation Spectra ISP comes into play—it promises to advance computational photography, video recording, and vision applications that require accurate motion tracking.

"We’re very excited for what’s coming to the Android ecosystem with our depth sensing technology, and the app market that will go ‘gangbusters’ once the re-architected ISP in our next-gen SoC hits flagship smartphones," Qualcomm says.

We can hardly wait.