CeBIT: Philips’ Liquid Lens

Philips Research are demonstrating a new lens at CeBIT – interestingly, this breakthrough in optics might have one of the biggest impacts on digital lifestyles devices of any component at the show.

The new lens, built on Philips’ FluidFocus technology, is based on two fluids with different refractive indices – applying a tiny voltage across then alters the boundary between the fluids and bends the surface, thus changing the way light travels through them. The focal length can be changed very quickly, with response speeds of less than 10ms.

There are several factors that make this lens exciting for digital lifestyles devices – the lens is very small – 3mm in diameter, has a focal length of just 5cm to infinity, and can be mass produced cheaply. It is also very hard wearing: Philips have tested lenses to more than one million focussing operations with no loss of optical performance.

The lens is ideal for many applications – mobile phones, PDAs, digital cameras, sensors, home security, medical imaging … we’re sure you’ve already thought of some good ones too. Image quality in mobile phones and other small cameras should increase too – currently, many lenses are made of plastic with poor optical properties.

So, what’s the catch? Varioptic claim the Philips lens infringes one of their patents, and Philips are contesting their allegation.

Digital Photography Review on the new lens

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?