clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Circuit Breaker

Vivo’s new sensor tech could be the future of face unlock

New, 17 comments

Last week Vivo announced its latest innovation in the field of cramming innovative components into phone-sized devices: a time-of-flight 3D scanner with 300,000 sensor points. I had a chance to test the tech out when I dropped in on MWC Shanghai this week, and it’s clear that while things are still very early, we are rapidly approaching the point where your phone is just straight-up going to be able to capture a 3D representation of your head.

The demo Vivo setup starts with a face-registering UI very similar to what you’d see with Face ID — place your head in a circle, turn it left then right, and you’re set. Then, after a bit of loading, you’re presented with a fully textured 3D model of your head that you can rotate at will. You can also strip the textures away to get a better sense of what the phone has actually captured.

The fidelity isn’t great — it kind of looks like you’re in a PS2 game. The demo also didn’t allow me to test Vivo’s claim that the scanner works from three meters away. But it’s at least as good as what I saw Intel demo with Fallout 4 at CES two years ago, and that required you to sit still as someone circled you with a tablet equipped with a camera array. To get similar results from a phone in front of your face with a much more streamlined UI is impressive.

The caveat on that “from a phone” point is that the prototype device is pretty bulky, certainly sharing little in common with Vivo’s recent bezelless exploits — or even the renders in the press release. A company representative told me that Vivo is exploring the possibility of putting this tech in a commercial phone, though they declined to provide a timeline. It should be mentioned, however, that Vivo first exhibited an in-display fingerprint sensor at this very show a year ago — and look where we are today.

Secure face-based biometric authentication is the obvious use case for this technology, though it remains to be seen whether Vivo could ever cram it into a pop-up selfie camera. Mounting it on the back of a phone, however, could also have interesting potential for photography and augmented reality.