Sure, pixel count and optical quality are key to determining a cameraphone’s worth. But, not much consideration is given to the size of the camera module in today’s high-end cameraphones. Smaller camera lenses make for smaller camera modules – in turn making for smaller, slimmer, and more power-efficient cameraphones.
Different research teams are looking into leveraging the refractive power of liquids for camera modules. There are already liquid-lens camera modules in production from Seiko and Varioptic, but those particular systems require constant voltage to maintain a focused lens surface – a waste of precious energy when you’re looking to save as much juice as possible.
A research team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have now developed an adaptive, continuously variable liquid camera lens using water and sound to capture 250 frames per second. Water droplets nestled inside tiny cylinders are made to vibrate up and down using high-frequency sound waves, continuously changing the curvature of the camera lens. The imaging sensor behind the lens captures images electronically at a rate of 250 fps. Software is used to sort through the frames and determine which pictures are in-focus.
This new water/sound-based liquid lens technology makes it possible to build highly-efficient, high-quality camera modules that are cheaper, smaller, and lighter.
“The lens is easy to manipulate, with very little energy, and it’s almost always in focus – no matter how close or far away it is from an object,” says project leader Amir H. Hirsa, professor and associate department head for graduate studies in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer. “There is no need for high voltages or other exotic activation mechanisms, which means this new lens may be used and integrated into any number of different applications and devices.”
The future may be filled with slimmer, faster, and more battery-friendly cameraphones sporting water-based optics. Until that happens, we’ll just stick with high-fidelity optics from ze Germans.