Vivo, the Chinese phone maker that’s been on the leading edge of bezel-less phones this year, has today announced another major new piece of technology: a 3D depth-sensing system with 300,000 sensor points, 10 times the number in Apple’s Face ID on the iPhone X. Vivo’s new tech, mounted on the front of the phone next to the selfie cameras, works by sending out a pulse of light and calculating the “time of flight” (TOF) that the light takes to bounce back to its sensor. Vivo says it can enable 3D mapping at a distance up to three meters from the phone.
The broad term for this type of technology is “structured light,” and it’s something other companies like Oppo have also considered for their phones this year, but none have yet decided it’s worth the added investment and complexity to include it in their phones. Vivo’s demonstration of its TOF 3D sensor at MWC Shanghai this week indicates that it will be among the first Android vendors to step up and compete with Apple’s Face ID directly.
“By combining TOF 3D Sensing Technology with AI, we will continue to explore new possibilities for a better future,” said Alex Feng, a senior executive at Vivo. One of the ideas envisioned by Vivo is to take in a full-body scan of a person and then feed that information to a beautification AI that would more intelligently and proportionately pretty you up. Another is to use the same full-body scans to try on clothes virtually.
Beside the obvious applications of more precise biometric authentication and better portrait mode for selfies, Vivo’s new sensor could also be used for gesture and motion recognition. With a claimed depth detection as far as three meters, this system could also enable new augmented reality applications or the scanning of furniture and other objects.
The press release for Vivo’s TOF 3D sensor promises that “this is no mere proof of concept,” though the company hasn’t given an exact timeline for when the technology will be commercialized in an actual phone.