Mutually Coupled Time-to-Digital Converters (TDCs) for Direct Time-of-Flight (dTOF) Image Sensors

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Direct time-of-flight (dTOF) image sensors require accurate and robust timing references for precise depth calculation. On-chip timing references are well-known and understood, but for imaging systems where several thousands of pixels require seamless references, area and power consumption limit the use of more traditional synthesizers, such as phase/delay-locked loops (PLLs/DLLs). Other methods, such as relative timing measurement (start/stop), require constant foreground calibration, which is not feasible for outdoor applications, where conditions of temperature, background illumination, etc. can change drastically and frequently. In this paper, a scalable reference generation and synchronization is provided, using minimum resources of area and power, while being robust to mismatches. The suitability of this approach is demonstrated through the design of an 8 × 8 time-to-digital converter (TDC) array, distributed over 1.69 mm2, fabricated using TSMC 65 nm technology (1.2 V core voltage and 4 metal layers—3 thin + 1 thick). Each TDC is based on a ring oscillator (RO) coupled to a ripple counter, occupying a very small area of 550 µm2, while consuming 500 µW of power, and has 2 µs range, 125 ps least significant bit (LSB), and 14-bit resolution. Phase and frequency locking among the ROs is achieved, while providing 18 dB phase noise improvement over an equivalent individual oscillator. The integrated root mean square (RMS) jitter is less than 9 ps, the instantaneous frequency variation is less than 0.11%, differential nonlinearity (DNL) is less than 2 LSB, and integral nonlinearity (INL) is less than 3 LSB.