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What is LiDAR? The iPhone camera tech explained

Some iPhones and iPads boast of having LiDAR sensors, but what exactly are these and how do they work? This article explains what you need to know.

Your iPhone no doubt boasts multiple camera sensors, including both on the front and the rear, and these allow you to take a variety of pleasing snaps in different situations. However, if you’ve got the iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 13 Pro (or later editions of the iPad Pro) then you might not have realised that there’s an extra little sensor on board named LiDAR. But what is this, and how can you make the most of it?

What is LiDAR?

LiDAR stands for “Light Detection And Ranging”, and it actually makes use of a laser to achieve its purpose. It sends out lasers and measures the time taken for them to return to the source, and in so doing it can measured the distance and depth of objects by using this “time of flight”.

You might have heard of Time of Flight (ToF) sensors being present on other phones of tech devices, so what makes LiDAR different to these? Simply put, the technology at work in both of these is different; while LiDAR makes use of lasers to create a 3D point cloud, most other ToF sensors use light detection to create a depth map which tends to be simpler and less detailed, and is not always as easy for computer programs to read. LiDAR is both faster and more accurate than most other ToF technologies.

What is LiDAR used for?

Now that you know what LiDAR is and how it works, what functions can it be used for and is it a good feature to have on your handset?

The most common application of LiDAR is for Augmented Reality (AR) purposes. One possible application of this is with Apple’s Measure app, which allows you to measure the dimensions of real-life objects with your camera, and devices with LiDAR can perform this task more accurately. Even when using fun features like quirky Snapchat filters, LiDAR can insert these into your environment with greater accuracy – and you can create your own filters too. A more professional usage for LiDAR is by scanning real-life objects and then exporting them to 3D modelling software.

Which iPhones have LiDAR?

The following Apple products al have LiDAR on board, and more may be added to the list in the near future with the upcoming launch of the iPhone 14:

Additionally, the two most recent generations of iPad Pro also feature LiDAR sensors.

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