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New Lens Tech Can Shrink Cameras, VR and AR Gear

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Scientists at Harvard University on Monday unveiled a metalens that has the potential to shrink the size of any device that uses a camera while at the same time improving performance.

While traditional lenses are made from glass, metalenses use a flat surface peppered with nanostructures to focus light. One problem with metalenses has been their inability to focus the full spectrum of light.

That’s not the case any more, however, as a team at Harvard’s Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed a metalens that can focus the entire visible spectrum of light — including white light — at a focal point, with high resolution.


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This flat metalens is the first single lens that can focus the entire visible spectrum of light — including white light — in the same spot and in high resolution.

Rx for Thinner Phones

An advantage a metalens has over conventional lens systems is that multiple elements aren’t needed to correct for aberrations. Those multiple elements make lenses thick, and thick lenses mean thicker devices.

“Our lens is a flat lens, so it’s thinner than a conventional lens,” explained Federico Capasso, a professor of applied physics at Harvard and author of the research paper on the new metalens published Monday in Nature Nanotechnology.

“If this lens were used in a cellphone, the cellphone could be much thinner,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Two components of a cellphone continue to challenge designers driven to make the devices thinner: the battery and the camera.

“The lens is responsible for the bump on the back of the cell phone that the cell phone companies hate,” Capasso said. “Right now, a cellphone has six or seven regular lenses. Even if we can cut it down to three, it’ll be extremely significant.

Impact on VR, AR

By correcting chromatic aberration, the metalens developed by the Harvard researchers addresses an annoying problem facing virtual reality and augmented reality hardware developers.

“Chromatic Aberration — color focal point mismatch resulting from the propagation speed of different frequencies of light — is one of many visual artifacts causing lack of visual fidelity and realism in augmented and virtual reality,” explained Sam Rosen, a vice president at ABI Research.

To correct those artifacts, high-end VR or AR hardware will often use advanced computational techniques to adjust focal points on a color-by-color basis.

“That process is compute-intensive and must be tuned for every model of device,” Rosen told TechNewsWorld.

“An improved passive lens which solves this problem could make for better devices by resolving the problem in the underlying physical hardware, making systems simpler and easier to program,” he added.

To address the propagation problem found in both conventional and other metalenses, the scientists cooked up a clever fix.

“By combining two nanofins into one element, we can tune the speed of light in the nanostructured material to ensure that all wavelengths in the visible are focused in the same spot, using a single metalens,” explained Wei Ting Chen, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and member of the metalens team.

Business Disrupter

Another benefit of using an achromatic metalens in a camera is that it makes the production of the camera subsystem easier to produce.

Now, the subsystem is made up of a sensor, which is a piece of fabricated silicon, and a stack of lenses, which are produced by lens molding, a process dating back to the 19th century.

“With a metalens, we can have the same foundry that makes the sensor chip make the metalenses for the camera module,” Capasso said. “That’s why so many companies are excited about this. There is a chance to disrupt the business model anywhere cameras are used.”

The use of cameras with metalenses is still some time away, Capasso acknowledged.

“I’m not going to tell you that you’re going to see a cellphone with metalenses two years from now,” he said. “That would be ludicrous. This is in the research stages, but it’s still a big step forward.”

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Gionee S11 with four cameras leaked in all its glory

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Now that the majority of smartphones sport dual rear cameras, we aren’t impressed anymore. Probably this is why some of the new models are going to come with no less than four sensors. We have seen similar devices before, and the next one to arrive will be the Gionee S11. The handset doesn’t only come with four cameras, it also adopts the new standard in aspect ratio, namely the 18:9 ratio that allows manufacturers to squeeze huge displays into bodies that are still easy to handle one-handed. Live images of the upcoming handset just leaked, showing the smartphone in all its glory.

Thanks to the 6-inch display and the new aspect ratio, the Gionee S11 will be quite a large handset, with an elongated body. The smartphone will reportedly become available in three color options, pink, blue, and golf, which is an interesting shade of grey, in fact. On the back, the dual camera setup is visible in one corner, and there is also a fingerprint sensor which at first sight seems to be a little too high to be comfortable to use. Of course, we might be wrong here, and Gionee S11 users could actually unlock their handsets easily. Also, the camera protrusion seems to be a little too big, so the handset most likely won’t sit steadily on its back. On the front, the handset seems to be all-screen. On the top, there are two more camera sensors and a speaker, while on the bottom there is the Gionee logo. The overall look of the handset is quite nice, however, saying that it is innovative would be an overstatement.

The Gionee S11 will reportedly come with an octa-core chipset, and it could include 6GB of RAM and 64GB internal storage. The rear camera setup will consist of a 16MP and an 8MP sensor, while on the front, users will have a 20MP and an 8MP sensor for selfies and video calls.  The smartphone will most likely run Android nougat out of the box. A 3,600mAh battery will keep things going. Given the size of the display, it probably will be able to take users through the day on a single charge, but don’t expect it to ensure an amazing battery life.

Gionee will most likely launch the new model on November 26. There still are a few days to go until then. We will probably find out more about the Gionee S11 ahead of its official unveiling. Hopefully, ti will have a reasonable price tag and it will become available for purchase soon enough.

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