Fundamental limits to depth imaging with single-photon detector array sensors

Stirling Scholes, Germán Mora-Martín, Feng Zhu, Istvan Gyongy, Phil Soan, Jonathan Leach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
78 Downloads (Pure)


Single-Photon Avalanche Detector (SPAD) arrays are a rapidly emerging technology. These multi-pixel sensors have single-photon sensitivities and pico-second temporal resolutions thus they can rapidly generate depth images with millimeter precision. Such sensors are a key enabling technology for future autonomous systems as they provide guidance and situational awareness. However, to fully exploit the capabilities of SPAD array sensors, it is crucial to establish the quality of depth images they are able to generate in a wide range of scenarios. Given a particular optical system and a finite image acquisition time, what is the best-case depth resolution and what are realistic images generated by SPAD arrays? In this work, we establish a robust yet simple numerical procedure that rapidly establishes the fundamental limits to depth imaging with SPAD arrays under real world conditions. Our approach accurately generates realistic depth images in a wide range of scenarios, allowing the performance of an optical depth imaging system to be established without the need for costly and laborious field testing. This procedure has applications in object detection and tracking for autonomous systems and could be easily extended to systems for underwater imaging or for imaging around corners.
Original languageEnglish
Article number176
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2023


  • Optical Devices
  • Optical Imaging
  • Photons
  • Semiconductors
  • Time Factors


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