Scientists at Harvard University have developed something they liken to an artificial eye. The device is an adaptive metalens that is described as a flat, electronically controlled artificial eye. The metalens can simultaneously control three major contributors to blurry images including focus, astigmatism, and image shift.
The team says that the metalens combines breakthroughs in artificial muscle technology with metalens tech that creates a tunable metalens able to change focus in real time just as the human eye can. The artificial eye has a capability that the human eye lacks, it can correct for vision aberrations like astigmatism and image shift.
While calling the device an artificial eye makes it seem as if this might be for the visually impaired, the team says that the metalens shows the feasibility of embedded optical zoom and autofocus for a wide range of applications. The device could be used in smartphone cameras, eyeglasses, and VR/AR hardware. Eyeglasses that change focus in real time could be a huge deal for people wearing bifocal lenses.
The tech could also be integrated into future optical microscopes. Harvard Office of Technology Development has “protected” the IP related to the breakthrough and is currently exploring commercialization opportunities. Presumably protected means a patent has been filed.
A thin and flat smartphone camera with significant optical zoom would be a game changer for folks who snap lots of pictures with smartphone cameras. The team did create a new algorithm to shrink the file size of images the metalens captures because they were in the gigabyte or terabyte range when the lens was scaled up. The lens and artificial muscle are only 30 microns thick. Future research will focus on decreasing the voltage required to control the metalens.