Phone makers like Apple have increased the number of lens items over time, and while some, like samsung, are now bending optics to create “periscope” lenses for greater zoom capabilities, companies have generally embraced the proven stacked lens system.
“The optics have gotten more sophisticated, you’ve added more lens elements, you’ve created powerful aspherical elements to get the space reduction needed, but there hasn’t been a revolution in the last 10. years in this field ”, explains Schindelbeck.
This is where Metalenz comes in. Instead of using plastic and glass lenses stacked on an image sensor, Metalenz’s design uses a single lens built on a slice of glass with a size between 1×1 and 3×3 millimeters. Look very closely under a microscope and you will see nanostructures measuring a thousandth the width of a human hair. These nanostructures bend light rays in a way that corrects many shortcomings of single lens camera systems.
The core technology was formed over a decade of research when co-founder and CEO Robert Devlin was working on his PhD at Harvard University with renowned physicist and Metalenz co-founder Federico Capasso. The company was separated from the research group in 2017.
Light passes through these patterned nanostructures, which look like millions of circles of different diameters on a microscopic level. “Just like a curved lens speeds up and slows down light to bend it, each of them allows us to do the same thing, so that we can bend and shape the light just by changing the diameters of those circles,” says Devlin.
The resulting image quality is just as crisp as what you’d get from a multi-sensor system, and nanostructures do the job of reducing or eliminating many of the image degradation aberrations common to traditional cameras. And the design doesn’t just save space. Devlin says that a Metalenz camera can deliver more light to the image sensor, allowing for brighter and sharper images than you would get with traditional lenses.
Another advantage? The company has formed partnerships with two leaders in semiconductors (who can currently produce one million Metalenz “chips” per day), which means that the optics are made in the same foundries that make consumer devices and manufacturers – an important step in the simplification of the supply chain.
New forms of detection
Metalenz will go into mass production towards the end of the year. Its first application will be to serve as a lens system of a 3D sensor in a smartphone. (The company did not give the name of the phone’s manufacturer.)