STMicroelectronics has signed a deal to commercialise flat lens technology developed by Metalenz in the US.
The co-development and license agreement will see ST develop manufacturing processes for metalens technology for mobile phones, industrial, healthcare and automotive applications by the end of the year.
Metalenz is a spinout of the group of Federico Capasso at Harvard University and uses patterns etched into materials to create the effects of a lens in less space and without the absorption and distortion issues of using glass or plastic lenses. The etched nanostructures appropriately bend light rays in a single layer to provide the same functionality as a complex multi-element refractive lens system. The deal follows the launch of a commercial product called Orion last week.
For example a camera built around this new flat-lens technology can collect more light for brighter images and produce images of the same or better quality than traditional refractive lenses while consuming less power and taking up less space.
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ST will integrate Metalenz’s meta-surface optics technology into its existing diffractive optics manufacturing process at its 300mm wafer fab in Crolles, France, initially as a key part of its fast-growing Near-Infrared (NIR) optical sensing products. ST has also shipped over 1bn time of flight (ToF) sensors, and metalens technology is a key part of the design tradeoffs for such sensors. This is also a key technology for AR displays that ST expects to replace mobile phones in the future.
“With its advantages in power, efficiency, and performance, multifunctional optics technology can be a game changer for the next generation of optical sensors used in smartphones and other consumer devices, as well as healthcare and automotive applications,” said Eric Aussedat, Executive Vice President & General Manager of ST’s Imaging Division. “In combining Metalenz’s advances with our proprietary technology, manufactured in our state-of-the-art 300mm production facility in Crolles, this partnership will support ST’s continued offering of the most innovative and advanced optical-sensing solutions to its customers.”
ST will use lithographic masks to build tunable diffractive-wavefront layers on a meta-surface in a semiconductor wafer fab. Like silicon chips, the flat meta-surface lenses are processed in a semiconductor clean room using the same manufacturing technology
This technology is initially targeted at the fast-growing NIR market. NIR wavelengths are used in all the 3D sensing functions, such as face identification, autofocus assist, mini-LIDAR, and AR/VR depth mapping, that are becoming standard in today’s smartphone. Given the benefits, optical lenses made in a semiconductor wafer fab could someday be as common as traditional refractive lenses.
“The technology developed by Metalenz is a perfect complement to ST’s advanced capabilities and market position,” said Dr. Rob Devlin, CEO and co-founder of Metalenz. “We adopted a fabless business model so that we can focus on the innovation and design of revolutionary optics to transform sensing from smartphones to automobiles. Working with ST enables us to expand our product offering while leveraging ST’s high-volume fabrication capability and enables ST’s already differentiated product lines to reach new heights with Metalenz inside.”
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