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New Flat Lens Tech Means Smaller, Better 3D Sensors in Phones

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Feb 5, 2021, 12:14 PM   by Rich Brome   @rbrome

A new company called Metalenz has developed a unique flat lens technology that is well on its way to revolutionizing the infrared 3D depth cameras used in many phones. The flat lens technology is much smaller than the traditional lens systems, and offers better performance. In both ToF cameras and Structured Light systems (such as Apple's Face ID), Metalenz technology offers better optical efficiency that translates to better power efficiency and longer battery life. It can also "result in a face identification that works better, particularly when the person is further away from the phone or in sunlight." The company's flat lenses are made using semiconductor technology similar to that used to make microchips, simplifying the supply chain. The lens itself uses meta-optics, or optical metasurfaces, consisting of patterned structures 1000x smaller than a human hair. The technology was originally developed at Harvard's John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Harvard has granted Metalenz an exclusive worldwide license to the technology. Metalenz was founded in 2017 and emerged from stealth mode this week, announcing $10 million in funding from 3M, Applied Ventures, Intel Capital, M Ventures, and TDK. According to Wired, the "company has formed partnerships with two semiconductor leaders (that can currently produce a million Metalenz 'chips' a day)", and "Metalenz will go into mass production toward the end of the year. Its first application will be to serve as the lens system of a 3D sensor in a smartphone." The company declined to name the phone's manufacturer.

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