iPhone 8 is said to pack in sophisticated 3D sensors on its front and back capable of scanning a user’s face within “millionths of a second”. The Wall Street Journal has now learned that the phone’s deep-sensing scanners work in low-light situations, even in complete darkness.

In a report published yesterday afternoon, WSJ wrote that using our faces to unlock things could soon become routine because Apple will mainstream advanced 3D facial recognition just as its sophisticated Touch ID sensor has popularized fingerprint readers on smartphones.

Rather than use very limited and unreliable facial recognition systems that analyze 2D images recorded through the front-facing camera, as we saw with Galaxy S8, iPhone 8 is said to employ a dedicated sensor based on so-called “structured light.”

An infrared transmitter will spray thousands of tiny dots across a person’s face or any other target. Bounced off the surface, the light will be picked up by an infrared receiver. By measuring the time it takes the light to travel back, the phone can work out the distance between it and each scanned point, allowing it to build a 3D mesh of any object in real-time.

According to the article (emphasis mine):

Depth-sensing technology, known as structured light, sprays a point cloud of infrared dots on an object or face. By reading distortions in this field of dots, the camera gathers super-accurate depth information. Since the phone’s camera can see infrared but humans can’t, such a system could allow the phone to unlock in complete darkness.

This is in line with a recent report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman which said iPhone 8’s 3D scanner would use more detection points than Touch ID, potentially making it more secure and reliable than Apple’s existing fingerprint scanning solution.

“The sensor’s speed and accuracy are focal points of the feature,” Gurman wrote. “It can scan a user’s face and unlock the iPhone within a few hundred milliseconds.”

A 3D-printed mask wouldn’t be able to fool such a system, unlike with Galaxy S8’s bitmap-based facial recognition feature, although identical twins, sunglasses on a person’s face or wearing something that covers your face might.

Qualcomm recently unveiled its Spectra imaging system which can extract depth information from objects including faces. Demonstrated in Qualcomm’s video embedded below, this technology will be included in upcoming Snapdragon processors for 2018 Android devices.

That’s roughly the kind of technology that iPhone 8 is widely expected to use in order to read facial features reliably. Apple’s scanner is likely based on specialized hardware and know how it obtained when it acqu-hired Kinect motion sensor maker PrimeSense.

The 3D sensor for iPhone 8 can even work at odd angles, such as if the device is laying flat on a table, rather than just close up to the face. The sensor is so secure that it will be used for authorizing Apple Pay payment transactions. The intent is for it to completely replace the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, according to Bloomberg’s sources.

iPhone 8 marketing mockup courtesy of industrial designer Quinton Theron

  • Tony Trenkle Jr.

    Man this thing is gonna be quite the feature!

    • And someone will come saying that Samsung made it first. Lol

      • They didn’t. What Samsung has is the traditional facial recognition based on analyzing 2D images recorded by the front-facing camera. This bypasses the camera and uses dedicated hardware to create a 3D mesh of an object

      • I know, we know, but Apple haters don’t

      • Tony Trenkle Jr.

        That only applies to when it’s actually true lol

      • Dominic81

        That’s a technology that has existed for some years now mate.

      • mickey

        I’d imagine being “first” is only a short lived novelty nowadays. What matters is how well it’s done and whether or not it’s seamless and fast for today’s impatient smartphone users. If rumors are true Apple’s tech will be worlds better than the competitors. We have Samsung to thank for bringing the feature to the mainstream.

    • TechnoBuff

      Here goes all the wild assumptions.
      Rumors… that is what this is called. Unsubstantiated until proven on release.

      • Tony Trenkle Jr.

        Have you ever followed rumors this close to release? Every year we know basically everything about the phone once the event comes. Rumors THIS close to the event are usually true.

      • TechnoBuff

        Seems you are new to watching all matters relating to Iphone releases.
        There are several rumors that comes out close to release over the years and only half ends up being added. The rumor mill is chugging on nicely on this one.

        This feature about “sensing in the dark” or “3D facial recognition in the dark” will turn out to be a mere rumor.

      • Tony Trenkle Jr.

        If you say so. We shall see. Otherwise how can make it better than Touch ID? These 3D sensors have been talked about for awhile. Apple knows people are gonna ask what about at bedtime? I think you will incorrect but we shall come back to this after the event.

      • TechnoBuff

        A lot of things have been rumored and talked about with regards to iPhone for 3-4 years now that has never happened from wireless charging to water resistance which only happened in the last iPhone release

        Also i think you might have missed my point. I am not saying that 3D sensing is not possible or not going to happen. but ” 3D SENSING IN THE DARK” as rumored in this article is certainly not going to happen. We shall revisit soon after the event.

      • Good point, let’s revisit. Ahead of the iPhone 5s announcement, the rumor-mill was similarly big on the phone using a new kind of fingerprint sensor, and nay sayers had a field day until iPhone 5s came out…

      • Rowan09

        Not sure if that’s true. If they can’t have Touch ID they must have something else and this seems like it will be just about right. Plus they bought the facial recognition company that made the Kinetic years back so I guess it’s possible.

      • TechnoBuff

        We shall see soon enough.
        Until you can show me any night vision rig or device that is as small and flat as a phone without a power source to match. then maybe i can believe that rumor.
        We are talking about reading 3D in total darkness here.. right? without any light source at all….

      • Stijn

        As said in the article there is a light source, but it is invisible for the human eye.
        By using a camera that can see infrared light you can see in the dark.

        It’s a miniature night vision rig, and it can be so small since it only needs to look about a meter in front of itself.

        A simple version of this is already being used in the GS8.

  • AJM

    What’s it now?
    “Within millionths of a second” as in the last post, or “within a few hundred milliseconds”, which – let’s be honest – is an euphemism for “about 1 second”.

    • Fanboy 

      Not true. Touch ID claims fractions of a second, and if you’ve ever used any device with the 2nd generation Touch ID you know it definitely takes fractions of a second to unlock.

      • AJM

        What’s “not true”. I haven’t made any assertions. I wanted to emphasize that
        A) the two claims “Within millionths of a second” and “within a few hundred milliseconds” differ quite a bit. The second one is a 100000 times longer than the first one!
        B) that the phrasing “a few hundred milliseconds” is marketing chatter, because “a few tenths of a second” is exactly the same, but the first one sounds faster/cooler.

  • AgNO3

    Hey author, structured light is not time of flight.

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