Per-pixel time-to-digital converter (TDC) architectures have been exploited by single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) sensors to achieve high photon throughput, but at the expense of fill factor, pixel pitch and readout efficiency. In contrast, TDC sharing architecture usually features high fill factor at small pixel pitch and energy efficient event-driven readout. While the photon throughput is not necessarily lower than that of per-pixel TDC architectures, since the throughput is not only decided by the TDC number but also the readout bandwidth. In this paper, a SPAD sensor with 32 × 32 pixels fabricated with a 180 nm CMOS image sensor technology is presented, where dynamically reallocating TDCs were implemented to achieve the same photon throughput as that of per-pixel TDCs. Each 4 TDCs are shared by 32 pixels via a collision detection bus, which enables a fill factor of 28% with a pixel pitch of 28.5 μm. The TDCs were characterized, obtaining the peak-to-peak differential and integral non-linearity of -0.07/+0.08 LSB and -0.38/+0.75 LSB, respectively. The sensor was demonstrated in a scanning light-detection-and-ranging (LiDAR) system equipped with an ultra-low power laser, achieving depth imaging up to 10 m at 6 frames/s with a resolution of 64 × 64 with 50 lux background light.
Keywords: LiDAR; SPAD; collision detection bus; dynamic reallocation; image sensor; light detection and ranging; single-photon avalanche diode; time-of-flight; time-to-digital converter.