By refracting light, optical lenses bring objects at different distances into focus. For instance, lenses made of glass or plastic have been used to date as the technical solution in cameras. To obtain a sharp image with these rigid lenses, the distance between the light-retracting lens and the light-sensitive medium must be changed. This results in complex object lens systems with relatively large dimensions that have a slow response.
The Swiss company Optotune, a spin-off of the ETH in Zurich that was founded in 2008 and Empa Dübendorf has developed new lens systems that employ electroactive polymers (EAP) for focusing. They operate in a manner similar to that used by ligaments and muscles to change the curvature off the lens in the human eye. The electroactive polymers change shape in response to application of an electric voltage, causing the curvature of lens to change as well. To bring close objects into focus, the lens becomes more spherical in shape, while to bring distant objects into focus, the lens becomes flatter.
These deformable lenses can be used to produce space-saving and inexpensive zoom lenses without compromising image quality. Applications include, for instance, use in microscopes, endoscopes and mobile phones with a built-in camera. To date, the lenses have been produced manually in relatively small quantities. According to information from the companies, high-volume production is targeted for the end of 2009.
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