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Role Model Nature: Compound Eyes Enable Ultra-thin Cameras

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Role Model Nature: Compound Eyes Enable Ultra-thin Cameras
Role Model Nature: Compound Eyes Enable Ultra-thin Cameras

Video: Role Model Nature: Compound Eyes Enable Ultra-thin Cameras

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Fraunhofer researchers at the Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Mechanics (IOF) have developed a process with which they can produce a 2 mm flat camera. Its lens is divided into 135 tiny facets, similar to an insect eye. Based on the model, the researchers call their mini-camera concept Facetvision. They presented it at the CES technology fair in Las Vegas in early January.

A camera like an insect eye

An insect eye is made up of many small, uniform lenses. They sit close together like pieces of a mosaic. Each facet perceives only a partial section of the environment. In the insect brain, the many individual images of the facets are then put together to form an overall picture. In the facet vision camera, microlens and aperture arrays take on this function. Because each lens is offset from the aperture assigned to it, each optical channel is given an individual direction of view and always depicts a different area of ​​the field of view.

"In the future we can achieve a resolution of 4 megapixels with this technology taken from nature with a camera thickness of 2 mm", says Andreas Brückner, project manager at Fraunhofer IOF in Jena. "This is a much higher resolution than cameras in industry - for example in robotics or automobile production."

Inexpensive production on wafers

The micro-optics of the Fraunhofer researchers should be able to be produced inexpensively in large numbers - using processes similar to those that are common in the semiconductor chip industry. Computer chips are mass-produced on wafers, on large semiconductor wafers and then separated from one another by sawing. Accordingly, thousands of camera optics could be manufactured in parallel.

"The cameras are z. It is interesting, for example, for medical technology - for optical sensors that can be used to examine blood quickly and easily,”says Brückner. "In the print shop, on the other hand, you might need such cameras to check the print image in high resolution while the machine is running." Other applications for the camera would be on cars to help with parking or in industrial robots to prevent the machines from colliding with people.

Smartphones at a glance

The first prototype of the technology still transmits the images of the camera to the smartphone via Bluetooth via a send box
The first prototype of the technology still transmits the images of the camera to the smartphone via Bluetooth via a send box

The multifaceted eye technology is also interesting for smartphones: The mini camera lens of smartphones is usually 5 mm thick today, so that it can display the surrounding image satisfactorily sharply. This makes it difficult for manufacturers to design super-thin smartphones: the camera is thicker than the rest of the smartphone and therefore sticks out of the surface. The manufacturers call this the "camera bump" - the "camera bump". However, the camera optics for smartphones are not manufactured on wafers, but in plastic injection molding. In this process, hot liquid plastic is shaped like a waffle iron. Robots then insert the finished lenses into the smartphone camera.

"We would also like to transfer the insect eye principle to this production technology," says Brückner. “For example, we could place several small lenses next to each other in the smartphone camera. The facet effect could also be realized in injection molding. That would make resolutions of more than 10 megapixels possible with a camera thickness of 3.5 mm.” The technology was developed together with scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen and funded by the Fraunhofer Future Foundation.

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