Camera bumps on smartphones may soon go away thanks to a team of researchers at the University of Utah who’ve developed a radically thin camera lens. Gizmodo reports: For comparison, the lens elements used in today’s smartphone cameras, which gather and focus light onto a tiny sensor, are a few millimeters thick. It might not sound like much, but the best smartphone cameras use multiple elements, which quickly add up, resulting in a thin phone simply not having enough room to house all of them: hence the camera bump trend. But a team of electrical and computer engineering researchers at the University of Utah have succeeded in creating a new type of optical lens that measures just a few microns thick, or about a thousand times thinner and one hundred times lighter than what you’ll find in smartphones today.
The lens the researchers created is actually made up of innumerable tiny microstructures, imperceptible to the human eye, and strategically positioned so that each one bends and redirects light towards a camera’s sensor. When they’re all working together, they produce the same results as a single curved element does. Manufacturing the lenses also required the team to develop a new fabrication process, a new polymer, and custom algorithms to calculate the shape and position of each microstructure. But the resulting lens can be completely flat, and made of lightweight plastic. If you’ve ever spent a day carrying around a camera with a big lens hanging off the front, you’ll appreciate that benefit alone. The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.