3D Sensing for Rear Cameras Become the Latest Growth Trend in 3D Imaging and Sensing Market

Posted Feb 25, 2020 by Yole Développement

According to market research analysts, Yole Développement (Yole), the global 3D imaging and sensing market is expected to expand from US $5.0 billion in 2019 to US $15.0 billion in 2025, at a CAGR of 20%. The forecast was made in Yole’s latest market report on 3D imaging and sensing.

With the introduction of the iPhone X in September 2017, Apple set the technology and use-case standard for 3D sensing in the consumer space. Two years later, Android phone makers have taken a different approach, using ToF cameras instead of Structured Light and are placing them on the rear of the phone. According to experts at Yole, compared to structured light, ToF modules only need a VCSEL and a diffuser on the emitter, which is less complex. ToF sensors have now improved a lot thanks to the BSI technique. They have also gained a cost advantage within a maturing ecosystem. This is the main reason why ToF has won the favor of Android phone makers.

Without doubt, 3D sensing's main trend is the switch adoption from the front to the rear of phones and the ToF camera mass adoption. According to Yole’s 3D imaging & sensing report, rear attachment will surpass front attachment, penetration rate reaching about 42% in 2025. 3D rear sensing in mobile should diversify its application use cases. First used for photography, to enhance bokeh and zoom capabilities, it will expand into AR and gaming. Beyond smartphones, ToF camera modules have a broad application market in front of them, including intelligent driving, robots, smart homes, smart TVs, smart security and VR /AR.

Currently, the application of ToF sensing technology in these fields is still in its infancy. The significance of the 3D sensing market means the transition from imaging to sensing is happening now. AI -powered devices and robotics are gaining a better understanding of their surroundings, and developing a new level of interaction with humans. Stereo cameras for ADAS are a highly anticipated application of 3D imaging and sensing technology.

The most important component in this application, LiDAR, is now focused on by a large number of suppliers. There are a wide range of LiDAR technologies to choose from, making the field as a very competitive one. In addition to automotive ADAS, and industrial AGVs in the logistics industry, as well as face recognition and face payments in commercial sectors have been very successful. As such, 3D sensing technology is moving towards ubiquity. Technology providers of global shutter image sensors, VCSELs, injection-molded and glass optics, DOEs, and semiconductor packaging are all benefiting.

In 2019, Finisar was acquired by II-VI, which helps consolidate an existing industrial business. During this period, there were several other big mergers, such as Philips Photonics being acquired by Trumpf and ams swallowing OSRAM. Trumpf and ams are both actively moving into the Android camp's 3D camera supply chain, providing VCSELs to Samsung and Huawei respectively.

In China, another player is entering the 3D sensing ecosystem: The VCSEL output beam of the flood emitter for ToF requires no coding and is therefore easier to produce. This helped a Chinese supplier called Vertilite to join the market. They have already won orders Huawei for 3D sensing in 2019. This move was also driven by the policy of China cultivating local supply chains in the middle of the US-China trade conflict.

ToF arrays are key components for mobile rear 3D sensing. ToF camera technology was first applied to the Phab2 Pro smart phone in 2016, which was using pmd and Infineon's TOF array. A year before that, Sony bought SoftKinetic, a Belgian gesture-recognition company with its well-known DepthSense ToF sensing system. This move brought Sony from a zero market share position in 3D sensing receiver chips to 45% by the time ToF camera modules took off in 2019. With its strong technology and supply capabilities, Sony is expected continue maintaining its leadership position in ToF.

But as there has always been competition in this area of CIS chip manufacturing, competition will increase. pmd with partner Infineon Technologies recently announced a matching chip. Yole’s analysts expect CIS giant Samsung and STMicroelectronics to bring to market their own indirect ToF array sensors in 2020. Samsung already adopted ToF technology notably in its Galaxy Note 10+.

Generally speaking, the competition remains very intense among a small group of CIS players. In the medium term Yole expects more opportunities for M&A as automotive LiDAR applications may come into play. There are a large number of highly competitive emerging companies. There are also a few Chinese startups, such as Hesai Technology, RoboSense, and LeiShen Intelligence. The underlying semiconductor products are the same: CIS chips, VCSEL, MEMS, wafer-level optical elements.

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