Feeds

Liquid lenses for camera phones

Clever stuff from France

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The essential guide to IT transformation

Camera phones will soon have lenses made from nothing more substantial that a couple of drops of oil and water, but will still be capable of auto focusing, and even zooming in on subjects. So says Etienne Paillard, CEO of French start-up Varioptic.

The company was founded two years ago to exploit two core technology patents covering lenses based on the principles of electro-wetting. This is the tendency of liquid to spread on a substrate, Paillard explains. "It means we can tune the shape of the drop to create a lens. Think about a tunable lens, like in the human eye," he suggests.

The lens has a simple structure: two liquids, of equal density, sandwiched between two windows in a conical vessel. One liquid is water, which is conductive. The other, oil, acts as a lid, allowing the engineers to work with a fixed volume of water, and provides a measure of stability for the optical axis. The interface between the oil and water will change shape depending on the voltage applied across the conical structure. At zero volts, the surface is flat, but at 40 volts, the surface of the oil is highly convex, Paillard said.

The Varioptic lens

There are several obvious advantages to having a lens built like this. Because there are no moving parts, there is less to break and it should be more rugged. Power consumption is also very low: around a tenth of that of a motorised auto focus lens.

It also has the potential to be made very small. Paillard says that at the moment, the limit is a couple of millimetres, but that the company is researching ways of shrinking the lens further. Varioptics is now developing the lens for use in endoscopy as well as in camera phones. But the camera phone market is its priority right now.

The company has a non-exclusive licensing deal with a subsidiary of Samsung to develop the lenses for use in its camera phones. Paillard expects products will be on the shelves by Q1 2006 at the latest, and maybe even in time for Christmas next year.

The first product will be the auto focussing lens, but in another year's time Varioptics will have a true zoom capability, using two of the liquid lenses, Paillard says. "We've just proven in simulation that a 3x zoom is possible. We're building the prototype now."

Varioptics has just filed a further two patents, and will pursue an aggressive intellectual property strategy. "We think, and out patent advisors think, that this is the only way you can do it [build an auto focussing lens] with liquid," Paillard says. "So anyone who wants to build something like this will need a licence from us." ®

Related stories

Youth jailed for court camera phone pics
Force phonecam voyeurs to flash, says PI
Saudi ministers urge removal of camera phone ban

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Déjà vu: Virgin Media jacks up broadband prices
Screw copper phone lines, we're UNIQUE, bleats telco
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Netflix swallows yet another bitter pill, inks peering deal with TWC
Net neutrality crusader once again pays up for priority access
Fifteen zero days found in hacker router comp romp
Four routers rooted in SOHOpelessly Broken challenge
New Sprint CEO says he will lower axe on staff – but prices come first
'Very disruptive' new rates to be revealed next week
US TV stations bowl sueball directly at FCC's spectrum mega-sale
Broadcasters upset about coverage and cost as they shift up and down the dials
UK mobile coverage is BETTER than EVER, networks tell Ofcom
Regulator swallows this line and parrots it back out at us. What are they playing at?
What's the nature of your emergency, Vodafone?
Oh, you've dialled the wrong number for ad fibs, rules ASA
EE network whacked by 'PDP authentication failure' blunder
Carrier is 'aware' of cockup, working on a fix NOW
ROAD TRIP! An FCC road trip – Leahy demands net neutrality debate across US
You crashed watchdog's site, now time to crash its ears
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
BYOD's dark side: Data protection
An endpoint data protection solution that adds value to the user and the organization so it can protect itself from data loss as well as leverage corporate data.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?