Technology 3 min read

Thinner and Lighter Optical Lens for Smartphone Cameras

A newly developed optical lens could pave the way for better, thinner, and lighter smartphone cameras to be manufactured in the future.

Image courtesy of R.A.Fuertes

Image courtesy of R.A.Fuertes

Engineers from the University of Utah have developed a thin, lightweight optical lens that could produce a slimmer camera for phones.

Smartphone cameras have come a long way from the old, grainy photos that we snapped on flip phones.

Now we have as much as five camera setups, with the ability to shoot in wide-angle and telephoto format. Also, we now have features such as low-light functionality, optical image stabilization, and super-fast autofocus.

In other words, we now have access to functionalities that were once reserved for the bulky, expensive DSLRs.

There’s just one thing.

The quest to provide the perfect camera comes with certain compromises in the design department. The back of most devices now consists of thick camera lenses that stick out like an ugly bump on a sheet of glass.

In fact, the sight of the iPhone 11 Pro‘s camera arrangement was said to trigger trypophobia in some users.

However, a team of University of Utah electrical and computer engineering researchers may have found an alternative. They invented a new kind of optical lens that’s not only thinner and lighter than the conventional ones, but it also works with night imaging.

With the new piece of technology, smartphones can finally flatten those unsightly camera bumps without reducing its performance. Also, the night image can be useful in drones.

Now you’re wondering:

How is the New Optical Lens Different From Conventional Lenses?

Well, the new lens is only a few microns thick, compared with a couple of millimeters in the conventional lens. According to the researchers, it’s a thousand times thinner than the regular lenses in smartphones today.

One of the researchers, an electrical and computer engineering associate professors, Rajesh Menon, said in a statement to the press:

“Our lens is a hundred times lighter and a thousand times thinner, but the performance can be as good as conventional lenses.”

The conventional cameras capture an image by bending lights that bounce off an object before it ultimately reaches the camera sensor. However, the new lens consists of various microstructures, and each of them turns the light in the correct direction, at the sensor.

The researchers also created a fabrication process using a new polymer and an algorithm to calculate the geometry of the microstructures.

“You can think of these microstructures as tiny pixels of a lens,” Menon explains. “They’re not a lens by themselves, but all are working together to act as a lens.”

The result is a flat lens that’s 20 times thinner than a human hair. And as a bonus, it’s capable of thermal imaging – a feature with military applications.

With its ability to register heat signatures, the optical lens can be useful at developing lighter military drones and lightweight night vision cameras for soldiers.

Since the researchers made the lens from plastics rather than conventional glass, it’s significantly cheaper too.

Read More: Samsung Unveils First 108MP Camera Sensor for Smartphones

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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