Qualcomm has announced new Spectra camera technology that could enable smartphones to capture three-dimensional images and movement in real time and convert that data into digital form on the fly.

The Qualcomm Spectra module will have improved biometric authentication and high-resolution depth sensing. That could be useful in a wide range of photo, video recording, and virtual reality applications. It’s a fundamental technology that could ultimately lead to much better gadgets.

The camera module uses Spectra image signal processors (ISPs), and it suggests that we’ll soon see smartphones and other devices with the ability to sense a 3D environment and turn it into something that a computer can understand. This technology could be used to spot humans walking around a self-driving car, or the sensors could pick up the movement of someone’s fingers as they play a virtual guitar.

“Whether used for computational photography, video recording, or for computer vision applications that require accurate motion tracking, it’s clear that power-efficient camera image signal processing has become more important for the next generation of mobile user experiences,” said Tim Leland, vice president of product management at Qualcomm, in a statement. “Our breakthrough advancements in visual quality and computer vision, combined with our family of integrated Qualcomm Spectra ISPs for Snapdragon, are designed to support an ecosystem of cutting edge mobile applications for our customers.”

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The next-generation ISPs feature advancements in computer vision, image quality, and power efficiency for the next Snapdragon Mobile and VR Platforms. The camera module additions include an iris authentication module, a passive depth-sensing module, and an active depth-sensing module.

It’s a second-generation sensor design, and it means that Moore’s Law is bringing improvements to technologies such as mobile virtual reality headsets, which are still a little expensive and bulky. The tech will be available in Qualcomm’s next flagship processor.

The sensors can collect 10,000 points of depth, with 0.1 millimeters between each point.

Leland said, “Qualcomm believes depth sensing to be the next mission critical must-have feature for smartphones. In addition, depth sensing will revolutionize standalone VR and AR headsets as tracking and object avoidance becomes more precise and hand-held controllers obsolete. The introduction of our second generation Spectra ISP will advance computational photography, video recording, and computer vision applications that require accurate motion tracking, all being processed efficiently on our digital signal processor (DSP).”