August 19, 2005 Taking a leaf from Mother Nature, scientists at A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) in Singapore have developed tiny lenses made of liquid, which mimics the action of the human eye. The liquid lens system has optical zooming abilities and uses only a fraction of the space of most conventional lenses. It alters its focal length by changing its shape. The lens promises optical zoom functionality for the next generation of camera phones and other compact hand-held devices. We have reported previously on similar functionality shown by Philips at CEBIT 2004.
Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd (ETPL), the commercialisation arm of A*STAR, signed a license agreement in July 2005 with home-grown precision engineering company, PGS Precision Pte Ltd, that allows the company to make and sell products using IMRE’s liquid lens technology.
“The work of the research team at IMRE is a good example of exploiting and advancing materials science knowledge. Their liquid lens technology adds a new innovative dimension to optical instruments and precision devices which breaks new ground and which should be cost effective.” said Dr Lim Khiang Wee, IMRE’s Executive Director.
The licensee, PGS estimates that the low fabrication costs of the lens can significantly impact applications in optical systems and instruments that require precise, compact focusing with zoom mechanisms. It paves the way for smaller and more compact consumer electronics goods such as digital and mobile phone cameras.
“This licensing agreement provides PGS with a fast track to innovative technology that will give our company a competitive advantage in the marketplace,” explained Mr Albert Boh, Chairman of PGS Precision Pte Ltd. “We are now in a position to help our customers integrate cutting edge optical devices into their products that current conventional lens manufacturing processes cannot attain.”
“PGS exemplifies how local companies can strengthen their competitiveness by tapping on the wealth of A*STAR’s intellectual property,” said Ms Emily Tan, Senior Vice President of Exploit Technologies’ Science and Engineering Division and Incubation and Spin-off Management Division. “We look forward to seeing PGS enter international markets with A*STAR’s technology.”
The liquid lens was invented by exploiting IMRE’s strength in materials R&D.; To date research in 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. The electrical components however, take up precious space.
IMRE’s patented liquid lens, on the other hand, relies on materials science know-how to form and retain the shape of the liquid lens, by manually adjusting the lens curvature. “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, IMRE’s research scientist working on the technology.