STMicroelectronics and Metalenz have brought the first optical metasurface lens to market.
Rather than using glass, a metasurface lens uses etched structures on a silicon chip to reflect light. This can reduces the size and optical losses and so reduces the power consumption needed for processing.
The two companies announced their agreement in June last year and the technology is used in ST’s second generation of direct Time-of-Flight (dToF) sensor (see details below) for 3D sensing applications.
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The Metalenz planar metasurface optics are now being manufactured on silicon wafers alongside electronics in ST’s semiconductor front-end fabs for the first time. The meta-optics collect more light, provide multiple functions in a single layer, and enable new forms of sensing in smartphones and other devices, while taking up less space.
“More than a decade of foundational research has brought us to this point. Market deployment of our meta-optics makes this the first metasurface technology to become commercially available,” said Rob Devlin, co-founder and CEO of Metalenz.
“ST’s technology, manufacturing expertise, and global reach allow us to impact millions of consumers. We have multiple wins that mark the first application of our platform technology and we are now designing entire systems around its unique functionality,” he said. “Our meta-optics enable exciting new markets and new sensing capabilities in mobile form factors and at a competitive price.”
“Initially targeting applications using near-infrared wavelengths, especially for 3D sensing, the products we’re introducing with Metalenz are perfectly suited for applications like face authentication, camera assist, consumer LIDAR, and AR/VR, where depth mapping is needed,” said Eric Aussedat, Executive Vice President and General Manager of ST’s Imaging Sub-Gro
The VL53L8 FlightSense direct Time-of-Flight (dToF) sensor is aimed at 3D sensing in smartphones for laser-autofocus, camera selection, touch-to-focus and flash dimming and can also be used in smart speakers, human-machine interfaces, consumer LiDAR, and AR and VR systems.
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The module embeds a high output 940nm VCSEL light source, a System-on-Chip sensor with an embedded VCSEL driver, the receiving array of SPADs, and a low-power 32-bit MCU core. The VL53L8 uses a metasurface lens technology in both the transmit and receive apertures to provide 16 or 64 discrete ranging zones with twice the range of the previous devices.
This increased range comes from combining a new VCSEL driver that is three times more capable than the previous generation with an efficient VCSEL while maintaining the same field of view and discrete output-ranging zones (4×4 at 60 frames per second or 8×8 at 15 frames per second).
For easy system integration, the sensor is housed in a single reflowable component that offers 1.2V and 1.8V I/O compatibility and significantly reduces the host processor loading over the demands of the first-generation sensor.
The VL53L8 is entering mass production now for select customers.
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