Multi-Zone ToF Sensor Offers Camera-like Field of View

By Rich Handley

STMicroelectronics' latest FlightSense sensor provides situational awareness for numerous types of smart equipment.

STMicroelectronics, a semiconductor provider for electronics applications, has unveiled a FlightSense multi-zone distance sensor with a 90-degree field of view, which the company says is 33 percent larger than what the previous generation of the sensor allowed. According to the company, the optical sensors are designed to bring lifelike situational awareness to such applications as home automation, domestic appliances, computers, robots and smart equipment used in stores, factories and more.

"Our FlightSense technology inside time-of-flight [ToF] multi-zone sensors enables sophisticated scene understanding with low demands on system power and processing," said Alexandre Balmefrezol, the executive VP and general manager of the Imaging Sub-Group within ST's Analog, MEMS and Sensors Group, in a prepared statement. "Extending the field of view now gives users even greater flexibility while maintaining accuracy, resolution and simplicity."

Multi-Zone Distance Sensor Offers Camera-like Field of View

STMicroelectronics' latest FlightSense sensor

Unlike camera sensors, ToF sensors like ST's VL53L7CX model do not capture images, thus protecting users' privacy. The VL53L7CX extends the field of view to 90 degrees (diagonal) for enhanced peripheral sensing, almost equivalent to that of a camera. This, the company explains, increases the performance of presence detection and system activation, such as activating a screen or awakening an oven, coffee machine or other commercial appliance. The FlightSense sensors feature 3D scene mapping and can simultaneously measure the distance to various objects within multiple zones.

The multi-zone capability and the motion indicator allow use in such applications as people detection and tracking, as well as over-shoulder warning, occupancy detection, and storage or parking management. The latest-generation sensor model is built to boost the performance of smart waste-management applications for tracking full and empty bins, and it can also improve floor sensing, cliff prediction, obstacle avoidance and small-object detection for robots, the company reports. Further applications include keystone correction in projectors and extended hand tracking for gesture recognition using STMicroelectronics' STGesture software pack.

The VL53L7CX has native 64-zone (8 x 8) sensing and can measure distance to multiple objects in each zone, up to 350 centimeters (11.5 feet). Patented histogram algorithms allow multi-target detection and measurement within the field of view, as well as smudge immunity above 60 centimeters (23.6 inches). The linearity is consistent when measuring distance to objects as close as 2 centimeters (0.8 inch), ST reports. In low-power mode, the sensor consumes 5.4 milliwatts of power.

The VL53L7CX can operate in autonomous mode, allowing the host system to power down and awaken only when a threshold value is reached. Thresholds include the distance to a nearby object, as well as signal rate and detection of motion. The sensor is pin-to-pin- and driver-compatible with ST's VL53L5CX device, and the company offers design-in support, including the VL53L7CX Expansion board (X-NUCLEO-53L7A1) and a development pack that comes with the VL53L7CX board and an additional STM32F401 Nucleo board. Also available is the SATEL-VL53L7CX, a small-outline printed circuit board designed for easy integration and fast prototyping.

STMicroelectronics' available software includes Ultra Lite Driver, Linux driver and STGesture code examples. Its X-CUBE-TOF1 software pack for STM32 microcontroller programming contains application code examples and is compatible with the company's STM32CubeMX tools. The VL53L7CX is now in production and is available in a 6.4-millimeter (0.25-inch) by 3.0-millimeter (0.12-inch) by 1.6-millimeter (0.6-inch) miniature optical LGA16 package, from $3.60 for prototyping.