A process has been developed that enables the production of a 2-mm flat camera. The lens is partitioned into 135 tiny facets, similar to the eyes of an insect. The facetVISION camera is suitable for use in the automotive and printing industries, in medical engineering, and in smartphones.

Figure 1. The first prototype of the system transfers the images from the camera to the smartphone by Bluetooth via a transmission box. (©Fraunhofer IOF)

Just as with an insect's eyes, the mini-camera is composed of many small, uniform lenses that are positioned close together, similar to the pieces of a mosaic. Each facet receives only a small section of its surroundings. The insect's brain aggregates the many individual images of the facets to a whole picture. In the facetVISION camera, micro-lenses and aperture arrays perform these functions. Due to the offset of each lens to its associated aperture, each optical channel has an individual viewing direction and always depicts another area of the field of vision.

The micro-lenses can be manufactured economically in large quantities using processes similar to those applied in the semiconductor industry for making computer chips. Thousands of facetVISION camera lenses can be manufactured in parallel.

Figure 2. The facetVISION camera can be industrially manufactured in mass production. (©Fraunhofer IOF)

With a camera thickness of two millimeters, this technology enables a resolution of up to four megapixels — a higher resolution compared to cameras in industrial applications such as robot technology or automobile production. In medical engineering, the cameras can be used for optical sensors, which will be able to quickly and easily examine blood. In the printing industry, such cameras are needed to check the print image at high resolution while the machine is running. Other applications include cameras in cars that help parking, or in industrial robots that prevent collisions between man and machines.

Compound eye technology is also suitable for integration into smartphones, which currently include camera lenses that are about five millimeters thick in order to show a satisfactorily sharp image of the surroundings. Since the camera is thicker than the smartphone housing, it sticks out of the smartphone's back cover. The manufacturers call this the “camera bump.” The camera lenses for smartphones are not made on wafers, but in injection-molded plastic. In this procedure, hot liquid plastic is poured into a mold, and robots then assemble the finished lenses into the smartphone camera.

With the new technology, it would be possible to place several smaller lenses next to each other in the smartphone camera. The combination of facet effect and proven injection-molded lenses would enable resolutions of more than 10 megapixels in a camera requiring just a thickness of about 3.5 mm.

For more information, contact Dr. Kevin Füchsel at +49 3641 807-273; weblink.