Varioptic Liquid Lens For Phone Cameras

Varioptic and Sunny Optics announced last week that they were making the Varioptic Arctic 416 autofocus oil and water lens available in high-end camera phones. The oil and water lens, which has no moving parts, replaces traditional mechanical lens focusing systems.

(Oil and water lens uses electrowetting)

The Varioptic oil and water lens uses a phenomenon called "electrowetting" to focus the system. A water droplet is deposited on a metal substrate covered by an insulating layer. The voltage applied to the substrate modifies the contact angle of the droplet. A liquid lens uses two liquids with the same density; one is an insulator while the other is a conductor. The variation of voltage 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.

Liquid lenses have many advantages over their mechanical counterparts, including ruggedness (no moving parts), faster response, excellent optical quality, wide operating temperature range and very low energy consumption (ideal for small mobile devices).

Science fiction fans have been waiting for this since Frank Herbert wrote about oil lenses in his 1964 classic Dune:

Paul lay ... in a slit of rock high on the shield wall rim, eye fixed to the collector of a Fremen telescope. The oil lens was focused on a starship lighter exposed by dawn in the basin below them.
(Read more about oil lens from Dune)

Philips is also working on this technology (there may be some patent fights involved); see Philips FluidFocus: Variable Focus Fluid Lens. Varioptic is ramping up production in (where else) Shanghai and expects to produce 100,000 lenses per month in addition to the production in its plant in Lyon, France. Read more in the 2MP Autofocus Camera Module with Varioptic Liquid Lens press release and Varioptic comes into focus with liquid phone camera lenses.

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