3D Imaging & Sensing Technologies: An Expected Explosion Within the Consumer Market Segment

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“Beyond its traditional medical and industrial markets, 3D imaging & sensing is ready to conquer consumer and automotive sectors”, explains Pierre Cambou, activity leader, Imaging at Yole Développement, part of Yole Group of companies. The “More than Moore” market research and strategy consulting company announces an exponential growth pattern starting from $1.3 billion in 2016 and reaching $9 billion in 2022. These results are part of the new imaging technology and market report published by Yole, titled 3D Imaging and Sensing 2017. This analysis report provides a clear-cut vision of the challenges ahead for 3D imaging & sensing. Some technologies will see developments in the billions of dollars, and some in the tens or hundreds of millions. The tide will not enrich all players… As an independent observer of markets and technologies, the consulting company Yole proposes today a unique understanding of the revolution before it happens.

A 3D imaging & sensing market revolution is ahead, thanks to an expected explosion of consumer applications. For several decades, 3D imaging & sensing technologies have matured under the umbrella of high-end markets and been applied with great success, mainly in medical and industrial applications.

In 2016 3D imaging & sensing devices became quite significant business wise, generating more than US$1.3 billion in revenue. While Yole’s analysts anticipated the advent of 3D imaging & sensing in consumer products by 2020, it seems the schedule has accelerated in recent months. Indeed, thanks to advances in semiconductor miniaturization, new 3D technologies are now able to answer the consumer market needs. In addition, Yole confirms, the number of 3D imaging and sensing devices manufactured is set to take off in 2017 propelled by the initial entry into the smartphone market. This increase in volume will be also supported by computing and wearable applications: over one billion 3D imaging devices will be shipped in 2022.

“2018 will likely see a massive influx of products, with the first applications in mobile and computing”, asserts Pierre Cambou from Yole. “And with the iPhone8 expected to incorporate a front-facing 3D camera, 3D’s application as a user interface will finally be better understood.”

3D imaging & sensing has made several consumer attempts in the past, i.e. the Kinect game accessory and the Leap motion gesture controller. This time around, Yole is expecting Apple to make it right and definitive. Augmented reality is an application, not hardware, and mobile will be the main benefactor of this innovation. Drones & Robots will also benefit from the situation. With a CAGR of 37.7% over the next five years, the consulting company Yole forecasts 3D imaging & sensing devices to reach US$9 billion by 2022.

According to Yole’s 3D Imaging & Sensing report, technologies have been developed to disrupt all markets. Indeed 3D imaging & sensing technologies are difficult to segment, since plethora of approaches coexist. “This is a typical sign of market immaturity, with each application developing its own “technology flavor” and multiple companies fighting for different market niches”, says Pierre Cambou.

However, this situation is about to change significantly in the next five years, as a forthcoming “killer application” will bring to market a specific set of devices and players. Big things are on the horizon, especially for technologies like ToF , which is bringing device miniaturization and structured light which proposes high-resolution mapping at reasonable cost.

Today, systems based on 3D sensing technologies are part of the most profitable and innovative imaging solutions. Leaders of the consumer market clearly understood benefits of these new type of sensors. For several years, STMicroelectronics has been investigating ToF technology and now provides several smartphone manufacturers with ranging sensors. Under its latest dedicated reverse engineering & costing report on STMicroelectronics’ latest proximity sensor embedded in the Apple iPhone 7 Plus (2) System Plus Consulting, part of Yole Group of Companies proposes a relevant analysis of STMicroelectronics approach. In a very small form factor (2.80 mm x 2.40 mm), the FlightSense proximity sensor is a custom Apple device measuring half the size of the rest of STMicroelectronics’s portfolio. Major improvement are in the VCSEL integration, on the sensing/processing die along with a new design of SPAD based detector. “This could be the first step for STMicroelectronics proving the feasibility of small form factor ToF devices which could then be part of the more ambitious 3D sensing camera of the Apple iPhone 8”, says Stéphane Elisabeth, RF, sensor & Advanced Packaging Cost Engineer at System Plus Consulting.

Semiconductor players in this field have clearly a great part to play, as none of them is exempt from imaging product involvement. Specific technologies such as SPAD and 3D hybrid stack BSI will probably play a significant role. Laser illuminators and LIDARs (another aspect of ToF technology) will also play determinant roles.


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