Apple Patent | Time-of-flight depth mapping with parallax compensation

Patent: Time-of-flight depth mapping with parallax compensation

Publication Number: 20190004156

Publication Date: 2019-01-03

Applicants: Apple

Abstract

An optical sensing device includes a light source, which is configured to emit one or more beams of light pulses at respective angles toward a target scene. An array of sensing elements is configured to output signals in response to incidence of photons on the sensing elements. Light collection optics are configured to image the target scene onto the array. Control circuitry is coupled to actuate the sensing elements only in one or more selected regions of the array, each selected region containing a respective set of the sensing elements in a part of the array onto which the light collection optics image a corresponding area of the target scene that is illuminated by the one of the beams, and to adjust a membership of the respective set responsively to a distance of the corresponding area from the device.

Background

Time-of-flight (ToF) imaging techniques are used in many depth mapping systems (also referred to as 3D mapping or 3D imaging systems). In direct ToF techniques, a light source, such as a pulsed laser, directs pulses of optical radiation toward the scene that is to be mapped, and a high-speed detector senses the time of arrival of the radiation reflected from the scene. (The terms “light” and “illumination,” as used in the context of the present description and in the claims, refer to optical radiation in any or all of the visible, infrared and ultraviolet ranges.) The depth value at each pixel in the depth map is derived from the difference between the emission time of the outgoing pulse and the arrival time of the reflected radiation from the corresponding point in the scene, which is referred to as the “time of flight” of the optical pulses. The radiation pulses that are reflected back and received by the detector are also referred to as “echoes.”

Some ToF-based depth mapping systems use detectors based on single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) arrays. SPADs, also known as Geiger-mode avalanche photodiodes (GAPDs), are detectors capable of capturing individual photons with very high time-of-arrival resolution, of the order of a few tens of picoseconds. They may be fabricated in dedicated semiconductor processes or in standard CMOS technologies. Arrays of SPAD sensors, fabricated on a single chip, have been used experimentally in 3D imaging cameras. Charbon et al. provide a review of SPAD technologies in “SPAD-Based Sensors,” published in TOF Range-Imaging Cameras (Springer-Verlag, 2013).

For efficient detection, SPAD arrays may be integrated with dedicated processing circuits. For example, U.S. Patent Application Publication 2017/0052065, whose disclosure is incorporated herein by reference, describes a sensing device that includes a first array of sensing elements (such as SPADs), which output a signal indicative of a time of incidence of a single photon on the sensing element. A second array of processing circuits are coupled respectively to the sensing elements and comprise a gating generator, which variably sets a start time of the gating interval for each sensing element within each acquisition period, and a memory, which records the time of incidence of the single photon on each sensing element in each acquisition period. A controller processes a histogram of respective counts over different time bins for each sensing element so as to derive and output a respective time-of-arrival value for the sensing element

Summary

Embodiments of the present invention that are described hereinbelow provide improved devices and methods for ToF-based depth mapping.

There is therefore provided, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention, an optical sensing device, including a light source, which is configured to emit one or more beams of light pulses at respective angles toward a target scene. An array of sensing elements is configured to output signals in response to incidence of photons on the sensing elements. Light collection optics are configured to image the target scene onto the array. Control circuitry is coupled to actuate the sensing elements only in one or more selected regions of the array, each selected region containing a respective set of the sensing elements in a part of the array onto which the light collection optics image a corresponding area of the target scene that is illuminated by the one of the beams, and to adjust a membership of the respective set responsively to a distance of the corresponding area from the device.

In the disclosed embodiments, the signals output by the sensing elements are indicative of respective times of arrival of the photons on the sensing elements, and the control circuitry is configured to process the signals in order to compute an indication of the distance to the corresponding area in the target scene based on the times of arrival. In one embodiment, the sensing elements include single-photon avalanche diodes (SPADs). Additionally or alternatively, the control circuitry is configured to bin together the signals that are output by the sensing elements in the set in order to compute an average time of flight of the photons over the set.

In a disclose embodiment, the light source includes a plurality of emitters, which are configured to emit a corresponding plurality of the beams concurrently toward different, respective areas of the target scene.

In one embodiment, the control circuitry is configured to enlarge the selected region of the array responsively to the distance, such that the selected region contains a larger number of the sensing elements when the corresponding area is close to the device than when the corresponding area is far from the device.

Additionally or alternatively, the device is configured to sense the photons received from the target scene over a range of distances from a minimal range to a maximal range, and the control circuitry is configured to set a size of the selected region to be sufficient to contain a first image cast onto the array by the light collection optics of the corresponding area of the scene at the maximal range, but smaller than a second image cast onto the array by the light collection optics of the corresponding area of the scene at the minimal range.

There is also provided, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention, an optical sensing device, including a light source, which is configured to emit one or more beams of light pulses along a transmit axis toward a target scene. An array of sensing elements is configured to output signals in response to incidence of photons on the sensing elements. Light collection optics are configured to image the target scene onto the array along a receive axis, which is offset transversely relative to the transmit axis. Control circuitry is coupled to actuate the sensing elements only in one or more selected regions of the array, each selected region containing a respective set of the sensing elements in a part of the array onto which the light collection optics image a corresponding area of the target scene that is illuminated by the one of the beams, while setting a boundary of the selected region responsively to a parallax due to the offset between the transmit and receive axes.

In a disclosed embodiment, the control circuitry is configured to shift a boundary of the selected region of the array as responsively to a distance of the corresponding area from the device in order to compensate for the parallax.

Additionally or alternatively, the device is configured to sense the photons received from the target scene over a range of distances from a minimal range to a maximal range, such that a first image cast onto the array by the light collection optics of the corresponding area of the scene at the maximal range is shifted transversely, due to the parallax, relative to a second image cast onto the array by the light collection optics of the corresponding area of the scene at the minimal range. The control circuitry is configured to set the boundary of the selected region to contain all of the first image but only a part of the second image.

There is additionally provided, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention, a method for optical sensing, which includes emitting one or more beams of light pulses at respective angles toward a target scene. The target scene is imaged onto an array of sensing elements configured to output signals in response to incidence of photons on the sensing elements. The sensing elements are actuated only in one or more selected regions of the array, each selected region containing a respective set of the sensing elements in a part of the array onto which a corresponding area of the target scene that is illuminated by the one of the beams is imaged. A membership of the respective set is adjusted responsively to a distance of the corresponding area from the array.

In some embodiments, the one or more beams are emitted along a transmit axis, while the target scene is imaged onto the array along a receive axis, which is offset transversely relative to the transmit axis, and adjusting the membership includes changing the membership so as to compensate for a parallax between the transmit and receive axes as a function of the distance.

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