A team at the University of Waterloo in Canada has won an award from the UK’s Dyson Foundation for its liquid crystal zoom lens technology.
Most camera lenses use physical movement to zoom without image quality loss, which is a major problem for compact camera and lens applications. The team at Scope Photonics have developed lenses capable of changing their optical power and behaviour with no movement, just applied voltages, by using a liquid crystal material.
Instead of using curved glass or plastic, or even a metalens, the liquid crystals confined in a cell. Using an applied voltage dynamically shapes the lens’ optical wavefront and behaviour without physical movement. The lenses are built to maximize the control over the liquid crystals using specific materials and electrode designs for a highly tunable, lossless zooming system. It also removes the need for polarizers or motors, creating an extremely compact system comparable to modern smartphone cameras in size but requiring only one aperture rather than three to five.
The team build a simulation model from scratch, and paired it with MATLAB and COMSOL to conduct these simulations and optimize the lens design. They then used Zemax to create high performance optical systems that take advantage of the lens performance. This validated our preliminary designs for the first prototypes that could focus and defocus the light from a laser, without any moving parts, and a power requirement in the microwatts.
The lenses are designed for OEMs integrating the device, making sure the manufacturing process is compatible with existing supply chains for smartphone cameras. This means the lenses have the potential to be more easily mass produced than regular glass or plastic lenses.