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Varioptic and Seiko team up on liquid lenses

19 Feb 2008

Cooperation on manufacturing and marketing aims to build market penetration in camera modules and other large volume products.

An agreement between Seiko Instruments (SII) and Varioptic will see the companies cooperate on the development, manufacturing and marketing of Varioptic's liquid lens products, and is intended to lead to significant market penetration. "Our objective is to become the leading supplier of high quality image solutions for mobile devices," said Christian Dupont of Varioptic. "SII's expertise in the production of low cost miniature mechanical assemblies makes it an ideal partner."

The agreement significantly enhances the existing production capacity for Varioptic's Arctic 314 and Arctic 416 liquid lenses, designed for 5-Megapixel, 1/3"- and 1/4"-format camera modules. SII intends to use its large manufacturing capacity to produce liquid lens units in very high volumes and apply aggressive cost reductions, building on its existing position as a major supplier of backup batteries and capacitors for mobile phones. The company's production capacity is expected to reach 0.5 million units per month by Q3 2008, with further expansion according to market needs.

Liquid lenses use two isodensity liquids, one an insulator and one a conductor, on a substrate. Voltage applied to the substrate leads to a change of curvature of the liquid-liquid interface, which in turn leads to a change of the focal length of the lens. The result is claimed to be a lens unit with a large inverse focal length range and fast response, without moving parts.

In addition to significant penetration of the camera module market, the companies intend to target other large volume equipment sectors such as barcodes and webcams. The advantages of cost, size and power consumption claimed for liquid lenses are said to position them particularly well for the emerging camcorder phone market, and Varioptic have stated that development of the liquid lens technology will continue so as to ensure that it remains competitive.

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