The LiDAR scanner works in a similar way to radar as it uses lasers to judge distances and depth, and this is very good news for augmented reality (AR), and to a lesser extent for photography as well. However, the most interesting question is what will the LiDAR scanner allow us to do in the new iPhone 12 Pro?
What is a LiDAR Scanner?
The concept behind the scanner has been around since the 1960s, in short, it allows us to scan the environment and map this environment by firing lasers, then determine how quickly they will return. It’s a bit like how you see a bat with sound waves.
Like most future technologies, life began as a military tool on aircraft, before becoming better known for the system that allowed the Apollo 15 mission to map the surface of the Moon. More recently, LiDAR has been seen in self-driving cars, as it helps discover things like cyclists and pedestrians.
But in the past two years LiDAR has opened up possibilities, and as systems have become smaller, cheaper and more accurate, the scanner has begun to be applicable to mobile devices that already have things like powerful processors and GPS in tablets and phones, so modern LiDAR systems – Including the 3D Time of Flight (ToF) sensors that are seen on many smartphones – these are solid units without moving parts. But what is the difference between the flight time sensor and the scanner that we will often see in the new iPhone 12?
You may be familiar with the time-of-flight (ToF) sensors that appear on many Android phones that help to sense depth of scene and mimic the bokeh effects of larger cameras. But the LiDAR system used on the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro 2020, promises to bypass that.
The scanner in iPhones uses a single pulse of infrared to create 3D maps, but the (LiDAR) scanning system fires a series of laser pulses at different parts of the scene within a short period of time. This brings two main benefits: An improved range of up to five meters, visibility of hidden objects, for example: the appearance of virtual objects hiding behind real objects such as trees.
The process is impressively fast, but this speed is only possible with the latest mobile processors.