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Liquid-lens module targets camera phones

20 Mar 2007

Sunny Optics and Varioptic jointly announce the launch of first autofocus camera module based on a liquid lens.

The first commercial autofocus camera module based on a liquid lens has been designed specifically for the AFCM OV290 module, launched by Zhejiang Sunny Optics (Sunny).

The module uses a combination of a 2 Mpixel sensor from Omnivision coupled with Sunny's optics and Varioptic's Arctic 416 liquid lens (see related story). Sunny first demonstrated the module at the 3GSM show in Barcelona, Spain, in February.

Measuring 9 x 9 x 7 mm, the camera module is one of the smallest 2 Mpixel autofocus camera modules available. The developers said that its "superior image quality" is ideally suited for the latest slim designs of camera phone.

"The Sunny camera module is now commercially available," said Philippe Ruffin, product marketing manager at Varioptic. "Several handset companies are working with the autofocus liquid-lens camera module and we are expecting to see actual phone launches in the coming months."

The 416 liquid lens is manufactured in volume for Varioptic in Wuxi, China, by Creative Sensor. It has no moving parts and Varioptic says that it offers significant advantages over traditional technologies in terms of cost, size, power consumption and speed. "The Sunny module can focus at a closer distance and has faster time to focus than comparable autofocus solutions," said Ruffin.

Jack Wang, general manager at Sunny, added: "Incorporating the liquid lens represents a significant advantage over other autofocus technologies. Our aim is to provide innovative camera-module solutions to handset manufacturers and Varioptic's lens is leading the way for autofocus for the camera-phone industry."

Considering the cost of the camera module, Ruffin said: "While it is relatively cheap compared with a mechanical autofocus camera module, I cannot give the precise cost of the Sunny module. A similar camera module from Varioptic – the AFCM MI285 – is priced at around $16 each in volumes of at least 50,000 units.

"As part of our ongoing R&D programme we are also looking at zoom versions of the lens," said Ruffin. "We have previously demonstrated a zoom system using two liquid lenses and we are working to achieve the small size demanded by the phone manufacturers."

Varioptic is working with all of the main camera-module manufacturers to integrate the liquid-lens autofocus system. The company has also developed its own 2 Mpixel autofocus liquid-lens camera module with the aim of accelerating the camera-phone market, but the company's longer-term aim is to supply liquid-lens systems only and leave the camera module developments to its customers.

About the developers
Zhejiang Sunny Optics, part of the Sunny Group, is one of China's largest optical manufacturers. It develops optical components, accessories and modules. Core products include conventional and digital camera lenses, scanner and projector lenses, plates and prisms, PC and video cameras and mobile camera modules.

Varioptic develops optical autofocus systems based on liquid lenses. Founded in 2002, Varioptic pioneered the development of "electrowetting" to create auto focus and zoom lenses without moving parts. Located in Lyon, France, Varioptic claims to be the world leader in liquid-lens technology.

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