Named Fluidlens, this lens is made of liquid and is no bigger than a contact lens, but can achieve an optical zoom of up to 10 times, matching the zoom capabilities of lenses found on mid-range and high-end digital cameras and superior than most cellphone cameras which use digital zoom that relies on software rather than the lens to zoom in on an object.
This liquid lens system achieves optical zooming through altering its focal length by changing its shape which mimics the action of the human eye.
“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. Our liquid lens, on the other hand, comprises only a droplet and no other cumbersome movable parts,” explains Dr Saman Dharmatilleke, a research scientist working on the technology.
To date, research in other liquid lenses involves using an applied electrical voltage to alter the curvature of the lens so that it can focus and zoom in on an image. Patented Fluidlens does not need this, which means it saves on battery consumption, is cheaper to manufacture and occupies less space in the device.
Singapore-based A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) who developed and patented this new liquid lens has licensed the technology to electronics manufacturer, PGS Precision, for an undisclosed sum. The manufacturer expects production cost of Fluidlens to be 20 per cent cheaper than conventional lenses.
PGS Precision will run field tests over the next 18 months and is currently in talks with cellphone makers. It expects to make 10 million lenses a year after tests are completed.
Fluidlens will enable digital camera and camera cellphone makers to create slimmer, better-featured devices with longer battery-life.
Schematic of the liquid lens device and its different modes: