August 30, 2005 - Researchers in Singapore have developed a liquid lens that is able to achieve an optical zoom of up to 10x in a package no larger than a contact lens. In order to zoom, the lens is able to change its focal length by altering the shape of the lens, similar to how the human eye operates.
"Currently there is no practical alternative to compensate for the fixed focus lens system where a camera lens, for example is moved along a linear axis until the image comes into focus," said Dr. Saman Dharmatilleke, a research scientist with Singapore’s Agency for Science Technology and Research’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), who developed the lens. "Our liquid lens, on the other hand, comprises only a droplet and no other cumbersome movable parts," he said.
While previous efforts on liquid lens technology have focused on using applications of electricity to alter the curvature of the lens, IMRE has developed a proprietary method of manipulating focal length that does not rely on electricity. The ability to change focus without using electricity appeals to manufacturers of cell phone cameras as it enables them to provided more advanced camera phones while maximizing battery life.
Currently, many cell phone cameras rely on software to zoom and focus, resulting in relatively low quality images. The optical zoom capabilities of IMRE’s lens would enable cell phone cameras to achieve unparalleled levels of clarity and sharpness.
IMRE has licensed the technology to a company in Singapore, PGS Precision, who is currently developing the lens for specific cell phone and digital camera applications. The company says that it plans to test the lens for the next 18 months before putting it into production with several cell phone manufacturers who are currently involved in negotiations with IMRE. In a press release announcing the lens, PGS Precision said that it expects to ship about ten million of the lenses a year once it enters full scale manufacturing.