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Here Come the Mind-Blowing Smartphone Sensors That Could Bring AR to the Masses

August 15, 2017

Over the course of the next year, get ready for phones to get some awesome new imaging capabilities. We're talking more than just a tweak to the camera, or stereoscopic vision. Think full-on depth sensing and mapping. 

Today, Qualcomm released a video demonstrating the abilities of its next-generation Snapdragon mobile processor and "active depth sensing" sensor package, in which thousands of dots of infrared light map objects in three dimensions in real time (check out the inset in the video above). Qualcomm avoids calling it lidar, but the effect is the similar: any device with active depth-sensing on board gains the ability to gauge the shape of objects and their distance to within about 0.1mm, the company claims. The Verge notes that Android phones featuring the new Snapdragon chips and sensor could be available in 2018.

That might be a little bit behind the timeline Apple is planning for its first phone equipped with laser range-finding. In July, it was widely reported that such hardware may be unveiled at Apple's annual event in the fall. We thought that made a lot of sense, as Apple is clearly pushing the development of augmented reality apps for iOS, and super-accurate depth sensing would be a key technology for helping AR take off on mobile devices.

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