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Fluidic lenses move from laboratory to factory

10 Aug 2007

A licensing agreement heralds the introduction of fluidic and liquid crystal-based adaptive lenses in camera phones and other applications.

Holochip and the University of Central Florida (UCF) have signed a licensing agreement that will see UCF's portfolio of advanced lens technologies exploited in the US company's zoom lenses for digital cameras and camera phones.

The deal covers both liquid crystal (LC) and fluidic adaptive polymer lens (APL) technologies, and follows the technology breakthroughs made by Shin-Tson Wu and his team at UCF.

"Our first APL product has a 10 mm diameter aperture and focal length range of 50 diopters," Rob Batchko of Holochip told optics.org. "This allows it to be positioned as a catalog singlet lens for optical engineers and scientists, and makes it attractive as an OEM zoom lens for digital still camera manufacturers."

The APL product is a fluidic lens, actuated by adjusting the pressure on an elastic membrane separating air and a lens fluid. This technology is distinct from that used in electrowetting lenses, in which the lens surface is defined by the meniscus between two immiscible fluids.

"Fluidic lenses tend to have greater ranges of focal power and can be scaled to larger apertures than their electrowetting counterparts, due to the larger difference in refractive index between the two components and the stability of the membrane," said Batchko. "The 50 diopter focal length of the Holochip APL is several times greater than comparable electrowetting products."

The other component of the UCF agreement covers LC lens technology, which is based on the ability of liquid-crystals to change their refractive index under an external electric field. Holochip plans to utilize this technology in future products that will be targeted at different markets.

"The fluidic lens provides a wide range of focal power with almost no optical loss, making it attractive for size-limited applications such as digital cameras and cell phones," explained Batchko. "The LC lens can control high-order aberrations that can lead to blurriness, making it attractive for free-space optical communications, adaptive optics, corrective eyewear and cameras."

Batchko believes that adaptive zoom lenses will be used in numerous applications in addition to camera phones. "Other markets are endoscopes, telescopes, microscopes, barcode readers and digital projectors, just to name a few," he said.

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