What Is a Time of Flight Sensor?

Mar 14, 2023
Updated • Mar 14, 2023

While many of us live on our phones, either for work, chatting, or social media, there are many people that don’t know that there are Time of Flight sensors installed in the cameras. It’s not really that fancy, but it does help with determining the distance of objects and applying appropriate blurring and focus. Also, ToF is installed in so many tech objects today. So what is the Time of Flight, and how do these sensors work?

What Is a Time of Flight Sensor?

I’ve seen many terms and explanations online in my time. The easiest way I can explain it is that it works similarly to echolocation and sonar in dolphins, bats, and the tech that Batman uses in many of his devices to locate people and objects with sonar detection. 

Briefly, Time of Flight sends out an infrared light that bounces off objects before returning to the camera or sensor. The term ToF therefore refers to the time it takes to fly to and back. In science, there’s actually a formula for this that multiplies the speed of light with ToF and then halves the result: (Speed of light x Time of Flight)/2.


Ok, so that’s the gist of how Time of Flight works, but let me explain the basic applications. When it comes to mobile devices, it’s the reason so many of your HD photos look so fantastic. The ToF sensor uses the infrared light to detect where the curves on your face is. It’s especially important for smartphones that uses facial recognition to unlock screens.

Other applications include cars that detect possible impact with objects, navigations systems (like in underwater sub-navigation or with drones in the sky), and even blurring backgrounds with an online video meeting. Augmented reality, your console’s camera (Xbox Kinect, PSVR2), 3D printing: there are so many applications, and many out there didn’t even know Time of Flight was a thing.

Well, now you can count yourself as someone who does.


Tutorials & Tips

Previous Post: «
Next Post: «


  1. basingstoke said on March 15, 2023 at 12:34 pm

    IR/proximity sensors are not all called “time of flight” sensors, that’s a term I’ve never heard before reading this article.

    “ToF is installed in so many tech objects today” you make it sound like a specific software/hardware product – but it’s not, is it? It’s just specialised IR sensor & maths.

  2. yanta said on March 15, 2023 at 12:09 am

    If you live your live on your phone you’re not living. Destroy your phone and engage in life. Stop watching TV. Have a picnic. Enjoy life.

  3. Franck said on March 14, 2023 at 11:56 pm

    Very interesting, thanks!

Leave a Reply

Check the box to consent to your data being stored in line with the guidelines set out in our privacy policy

We love comments and welcome thoughtful and civilized discussion. Rudeness and personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please stay on-topic.
Please note that your comment may not appear immediately after you post it.