The smartphone industry is reaching a limit that will be very difficult to overcome in the coming years: the phones are getting quite thin but more and more it will be necessary to keep the camera’s spine to support a functional lens to capture the light from the photos.
As high-end walkers reach a minimal bump-free thickness, Caltech engineers are already looking for a solution to keep the devices thinner without the need for camera bumps. And they have developed a chip, called the ultra-thin optics array (OPA).
According to Caltech, a curve in the lens is what takes the light up to a film or image sensor, in the case of digital cameras, to record the photos. The OPA has several receivers that can individually create a time delay (or phase shift), which allows the camera to look in different directions, and focus on different objects.
Caltech’s electrical engineering professor Ali Hajimiri explains that the team has created “an integrated fine photonic layer of silicon that emulates the lens and sensor of a digital camera.” Thus, it would be possible to continue to reduce the thickness of smartphones – and digital cameras in general.
“With our new system, you can selectively look in a desired direction and a small part of the image in front of you at any time, controlling the time with a precision of a quadrillion of a second.”
According to the professor, this sensor can also switch from a fisheye lens to a telephoto lens instantly, needing only a simple adjustment in the array. That is, dual lenses on smartphones would still be meaningless.
But do not get excited, yet. As you can see in the video, the chip still cannot record images very accurately. They are records with tiny resolution. The project is well under way, but there is still plenty of ground ahead so that the lenses are actually replaced in digital cameras and smartphones.
That is, there are still a good few years ahead standing up camera bumps on the elite devices. Even some middlemen are adopting this “strategy”, as we see in Moto G5 Plus, for example.