Sony Acquires Image Sensor Specialist Softkinetic Systems - InformationWeek

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Sony Acquires Image Sensor Specialist Softkinetic Systems

Softkinetic's time of flight and other image sensor technologies will help Sony become more competitive in the video gaming and smartphone markets.

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Sony is acquiring Softkinetic Systems, a specialist in range image sensor technology. Softkinetic, which possesses time-of-flight (ToF) range image sensor technology, as well as related systems and software, has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony following an agreement between Softkinetic and its major shareholders.

The two companies announced the agreement on Oct. 8. No financial details were disclosed. Based in Belgium, Softkinetic has offices in Sunnyvale, Calif.

"Sony will focus on combining Softkinetic's ToF range image sensor technology expertise with its own technologies with the aim of developing the next generation of range image sensors and solutions, not only in the field of imaging, but for broader sensing-related applications as well," according to Sony.

Specifically, distance measurement pixels, which are laid on top of the sensor in two dimensions, measure the delay, otherwise known as flight time, that it takes for light to leave the light source, reflect off the object, and return to the image sensor.

(Image: ilbusca/iStockphoto)

(Image: ilbusca/iStockphoto)

Sony will likely use the technology to enhance its digital cameras and other imaging solutions, as ToF technology helps measure the distance to an object.

The acquisition could also help Sony become more competitive in the gaming space. Its PlayStation 4 Camera controller still requires two cameras to help identify gestures, while rival Microsoft's Xbox One Kinect sensor already incorporates ToF technology.

The global gesture recognition market for gaming consoles is set to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 48% in terms of revenue from 2014 to 2019, according to a July report from Technavio.

Softkinetic's primary areas of business include development and licensing of range imaging software, such as for range image signal processing and gesture recognition and the development of ToF range image sensor modules and reference designs.

Sony did not mention in its announcement whether Sofkinetic's 77 employees would join the company, and noted no material impact is anticipated on its consolidated financial results for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016 as a result of the acquisition.

[Read about Sony's new Xperia smartphone.]

Sony's image sensors, which are used on its own struggling smartphones as well as Apple's iPhone, might get a boost from the acquisition of the company and its technology. After all, smartphone cameras are among the most popular features of advanced handsets.

Apple in particular has highlighted improvements to the camera on its recently released iPhone 6s and the camera's ability to take sharper, more colorful photos even in low light situations.

The announcement of the acquisition follows Sony's decision earlier this week to establish a semiconductor solutions corporation.

The aim of this new structure is to enable each of the three main businesses within this segment, namely the semiconductor, battery, and storage media businesses, to improve growth and to respond more rapidly to changing market conditions.

The Softkinetic acquisition could also be of use in the context of this restructuring. Image sensors are a primary area of focus in the semiconductor space.

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin. View Full Bio

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