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Shape-changing lens blends human and insect vision

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September 18, 2013

The experimental lens combines the wide angle properties of insect vision with the depth-o...

The experimental lens combines the wide angle properties of insect vision with the depth-of-field capabilities of a human eye (Photo: Jo McCulty, Ohio State University)

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One example of biomimicry that keeps popping up on the pages of Gizmag is the use of insect eyes as a model for innovative new optical devices. It seems that the potential for development in this area is far from exhausted with the announcement of another bug-inspired lens breakthrough from Ohio State University. This experimental lens developed by associate professor of biomedical engineering and ophthalmology, Yi Zhao, combines the wide angle properties of insect vision with the depth-of-field capabilities of a human eye.

The 5 mm-wide prototype lens is made up of a series of fluid-filled transparent polymer pockets arranged over a dome that can be contracted and expanded to change the focus and direction of the lens. At present, the fluid is pumped in and out by hand from an external reservoir, but a version made from an active polymer that changes shape in response to electric signals is also in the works.

Yi Zhao shows off the bug/human hybrid lens prototype (Photo: Jo McCulty, Ohio State Unive...

“Our eye can change focus. An insect eye is made of many small optical components that can’t change focus but give a wide view. We can combine the two,” says Yi Zhao, associate professor of biomedical engineering and ophthalmology at Ohio State. “What we get is a wide-angle lens with depth of field.”

While we've seen super-wide angle lenses developed using a bug-eye structure before, the ability to change focus by altering its shape is what gives the lens added potential for applications such as laparoscopy, microscopes and smartphone cameras, where being able to achieve shallow depth-of-field without adding any moving parts has clear advantages.

The shape-changing lens could prove beneficial for microscopes and mobile phone cameras (P...

“With our lens, doctors could get the wide-angle view they need, and still be able to judge the distance between the lens and tissue," says Zhao. "They could place instruments with more confidence, and remove a tumor more easily, for example.”

The researchers say that tests on the prototype lens to date have demonstrated the ability to shift focus and produce images of varying depth. Further work is being done to make the device smaller and to develop a self-contained shape-changing mechanism, with the aim of eventually licensing the technology to industry through Ohio State's Technology Commercialization and Knowledge Transfer Office.

Source: Ohio State University

About the Author
Noel McKeegan After a misspent youth at law school, Noel began to dabble in tech research, writing and things with wheels that go fast. This bus dropped him at the door of a freshly sprouted Gizmag.com in 2002. He has been Gizmag's Editor-in-Chief since 2007.   All articles by Noel McKeegan
3 Comments

That's incredible! I've always liked insects, I find them fascinating. It's really cool to see bio-mimicry often looking to them for inspiration.

Onihikage
18th September, 2013 @ 02:27 pm PDT

Fluid pumped lenses are quite old (1979), perhaps the combination of microlenses and a primary lens is novel.

Achieving high N.A., achromaticity and 1/10th wave accuracy are the challenges that doomed the earlier approaches.

attoman
24th September, 2013 @ 10:40 pm PDT

An exciting development indeed, but, as an optometric journalist (and editor of Optometry Today) I can say that we in India are more concerned about the effective regulated delivery of primary eye care services to our massing millions in the hands of those qualified by way of the establishment of the Optometric Council of India.

Narendra Kumar
7th April, 2014 @ 10:23 pm PDT
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