A grain of sand-sized camera lens delivers high-resolution images

Scientists at Princeton University have succeeded in developing a new camera lens that is only half a millimeter in size. Thanks to its special meta-surface, it can compete with camera lenses that are approximately 500,000 times larger. The lens is also well suited for mass production because of its material.

Image: Princeton University

Tiny lens with 1.6 million rods

Optical meta-surfaces can manipulate light almost indefinitely. They consist of a nanostructured surface with tiny rods and holes. It has already been possible to develop cameras with meta-lenses from these special surfaces in the past. So far, however, these mini cameras suffered from the fact that they only provided blurred or heavily distorted images.

Researchers around Ethan Tseng from Princeton University have now changed that. They developed a meta-lens camera that can take high-resolution images. The lens itself is only about half a millimeter in size, and yet the photos taken with it can easily compete with those of a classic lens camera.

The diameter of the lens is just 500 micrometers. On its surface there are around 1.6 million rods made of silicon nitride with a thickness of 100 to 290 nanometers. Each of these rods has a special geometry. “It was a challenge to design these microstructures so that they do what we want„, so Tseng.

Results comparable to conventional cameras

The light rays that pass through the metastructure of the lens are manipulated by the lens and then recorded by a sensor. The algorithm that then reconstructs the information into an image is, besides the lens structure, the second highlight of the mini camera. The researchers developed it with the help of machine learning. By developing the hardware and software hand-in-hand, the team was able to guarantee the best possible result. “Through the combination to an end-to-end development, we were able to optimize the entire image processing together. This is also the main difference to existing methods, which considered the focus size separately from the reconstruction method“, Explain the researchers: inside.

In order to be able to check their results, the scientists then compared images that they took with the meta lens with those of conventional cameras. They found that none of the meta-optics developed so far can offer comparable combinations of image quality, low f-number and large field of view.

Industrial mass production possible without any problems

In addition, the researchers found that the image quality of their lens is absolutely comparable to that of a commercial, heavy compound lens. This is impressive in that the design volume on the meta lens is about 500,000 times lower. The newly developed lens has aperture 2 – this corresponds to the upper quality segment even with conventional SLR cameras.

Thanks to the silicon nitride used to construct the lens, production can also be taken over by machines that normally make computer chips from semiconductors. These processes are already widespread in industry, so the researchers assume that the new meta-lens can be produced inexpensively and in large quantities.

via Princeton University

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