Optics revolution: flat, powerful camera lens can make phones even thinner


A breakthrough discovery can shrink traditional molded glass optics to a practically flat chip that is a fraction of the size, yet performs better than the highest-end research microscopes. That's the promise from a Harvard University team that managed to pass light through an array of nanothin titanium oxide (TiO) fins, perched on a flat sheet of quartz glass. 

The whole planar structure is just 2mm thin, because that's the smallest they could make it with the existing Harvard equipment, but since those revolutionary optics can be printed like chips, processor foundries could have a field day scaling the discovery to fit in the thinnest of handsets, offering more focusing precision than even top-notch lab equipment.

It's not every day that we are hearing about revolutionary ways to send lights to a modern digital camera sensor - the molded glass lens has been the only way to do it since the 19th century, after all - so this breakthrough planar optics discovery might hold the key to the future of photography. In short, the light rays that fall on the millions of hair-like structures, get refocused by them when passing through the quartz surface, and it is only a matter of algorithms to find the optimal distribution of directing it like traditional lenses for various purposes.

In fact, as per the team lead Prof Capasso, not only does this metalens avoid the distortions and aberrations that come with traditional glass optics, but also "the quality of our images is actually better than with a state-of-the-art objective lens." The researchers measured a focal point that is 30% sharper than even the best conventional objectives. What caught our attention in the publication abstract, however, is this phrase: "At just a fraction of the size of optical objectives, such planar devices could turn your phone camera or your contact lens into a compound microscope."

While this is all very nice and dandy, often such discoveries are prohibitively expensive to manufacture, and this is where the planar metalens shines. The titanium oxide we mentioned previously is simply the good old paint whitener, and the flat lens can be produced in mass quantities in a chip foundry with whatever sizes you desire. The lens optics are currently the only major traditional camera element in a digital era, and this new planar structure may revolutionize it towards something completely new, more capable and way more compact to fit in the phones and VR gadgets of tomorrow. Here is a video of how the light passing through the TiO fins gets refocused on the way out in a lens that can be made thinner than a sheet of paper.


source: Harvard

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18 Comments

1. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Phones don't need to be any thinner than what they are. But I'm all for better optics

3. Jimrod

Posts: 1605; Member since: Sep 22, 2014

If it gets rid of camera bumps that's enough for me...

5. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

adding 1-2mm to smartphone thickness is enough to get rid of that camera bumps.. and maybe it'll get 10% more battery as bonus

9. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

I guess I don't pay attention anymore, because cases get rid of the bumps. On the Note 5, the bump is barely noticeable To me, depending on how the phone is made, I think the bumps add o the look. But that's just me.

11. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

All those bumps and phone thickness are irelevent.. 30% more precise focusing than any current tech? i take thats any day. Picture quality will improve. Thinner is only a bonus!

13. medtxa

Posts: 1655; Member since: Jun 02, 2014

On the S7 there is no reason to not add 1-2mm to make it real flush except that its intentional by samsung, the bump makes you think its a good camera.

2. TechKids

Posts: 16; Member since: Mar 14, 2016

Apple will probably acquire that, coz they love thinness.

8. Unordinary unregistered

You know how many phones there are that are thinner than Apples current? Lmao

16. NoToFanboys

Posts: 3231; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

What happened to you? I noticed that most of your comments are replies to negative Apple comments and deflecting them to others.

4. jeevanand88 unregistered

I dont think the phone's thickness only depends on the camera lense design. Ofcourse it is one among various parameters such as battery!!

6. hmmm...

Posts: 81; Member since: Jun 05, 2013

The Harvard source says titanium dioxide (TiO2) which is different from TiO. This is basic high school chemistry, please correct it. TiO2 is the whitener, not TiO.

15. Krjal

Posts: 431; Member since: Dec 19, 2013

I was wondering about that. Thanks for checking for us, mate :)

7. DoggyDangerous

Posts: 1028; Member since: Aug 28, 2015

I dont want a thin phone... Please increase the size of sensor and battery instead...

10. combatmedic870

Posts: 984; Member since: Sep 02, 2015

You can increase sensor size due to these

12. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Yep thinner lense = more space for anything you want including bigger sensor!

14. vincelongman

Posts: 5692; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

This is great Hopefully it leads to phones with better optics, bigger camera sensors and better optics for VR/AR

17. meerajacob

Posts: 1; Member since: Jun 04, 2016

great......

18. sachouba

Posts: 266; Member since: Jun 08, 2014

That's impressive !

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