Metalenz, a Harvard-affiliated company based in Boston, has unveiled its meta-optical lens technology. The company’s goal is to replace plastic lenses with silicon nanostructured waveguides fabricated using standard semiconductor processes at the same factories that make microelectronics and CMOS image sensors.

Translated from – EEtimes

Metalenz, a Harvard-affiliated company based in Boston, has unveiled its meta-optical lens technology. The company’s goal is to replace plastic lenses with silicon nanostructured waveguides fabricated using standard semiconductor processes at the same factories that make microelectronics and CMOS image sensors.

Metalenz meta-optical lens technology enables further miniaturization of imaging devices

Metalenz also announced that it has raised $10 million from 3M Ventures, Applied Ventures LLC, Intel Capital, M Ventures, TDK Ventures, as well as Tsingyuan Ventures and Braemar Energy Ventures. Metalenz will use the funds to scale production and accelerate the development of microscopic optical chip technology.

Metalenz meta-optical lens technology enables further miniaturization of imaging devices
Ultra-thin flat lens composed of titanium dioxide nanofins on glass substrates

Metalenz co-founder and CEO Rob Devlin said that since the technology was first demonstrated in 2016, they have received a flood of requests from phone makers, and they are currently in advanced discussions with two of them. “We also have two manufacturers capable of producing this chip, and expect to have the first products by the end of 2021. The lens chip is relatively small, so we can produce 1-5 million lenses per day. One wafer can Holds about 5,000 to 10,000 lenses.”

Metalenz meta-optical lens technology enables further miniaturization of imaging devices

Manipulating light on nanoscale structures

In recent years, smartphones have included different camera modules, each with a different plastic lens. As technology has advanced, these lenses have also changed with sophisticated processing software. In contrast, the Metalenz technology exploits the interaction of light and matter at the nanoscale, enabling “unprecedented” control over the path of light. Whereas traditional optics refract, reflect and polarize light as it travels through large parts of the material, this innovation uses tiny patterns and structures on the surface to redirect light at will.

These structures can manipulate light, Devlin said, and provide a degree of control not possible with traditional designs. “There’s polarization, there’s intensity, there’s wavelength, and there’s a lot of information in the light. The idea is, can you fully control all of this with just one plane.”

Metalenz’s technology stems from the technological achievements of Harvard’s John Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which is led by Federico Capasso, professor of applied physics. His team is the first to be able to focus the entire visible light spectrum using meta-optical metalens. Metalenz holds an exclusive worldwide license to a portfolio of flat optics innovations developed in his laboratory.

Capasso, a professor of applied physics at Harvard Ocean University and a Vinton Hayes senior fellow in electrical engineering, said: “It’s very rewarding to see Metalenz succeed as a startup after a decade of research by my team. Our research ranges from promoting the ancient Snell’s law of refraction optics to realizing flat lenses that perform better than conventional lenses.” Capasso is also a co-founder and board member of Metalenz.

What is Meta-optics

Metalens use nanoscale fins to focus light; fins are flat, while typical lenses are curved. The structure consists of coupled nanofins that can simultaneously tune the speed of light at different wavelengths, while also controlling the subsurface refractive index to ensure that all wavelengths of light reach the focal point at the same time.

Using the entire visible spectrum is a challenge because each wavelength travels through the material at a different rate. Red wavelengths penetrate glass faster than blue, so the two colors will focus differently, causing distortion or chromatic aberration. The refractive index (n) can vary with wavelength: light waves with longer wavelengths have a lower refractive index, and vice versa. Chromatic aberration is an imaging defect caused by differences in the refractive indices of the wavelengths that make up the light passing through the optical medium.

If you only have one lens, aberrations like distortion and chromatic aberration will accentuate and degrade image quality. In fact, the optical system of a smartphone uses many lenses to optimize the image. However, stacking multiple lens elements together within a camera module requires more vertical space. Instead of using plastic and glass elements superimposed on the image sensor, Metalenz’s design uses a single lens (nanolens, metalens), placed on glass wafers ranging in size from 1 x 1 to 3 x 3 millimeters.

Using a semiconductor process to make these nanolenses can reduce complexity, resulting in smaller modules whose lenses can be attached directly to sensors, Devlin noted. Processing software can enhance images by combining multiple sources from different chambers.

Light travels through these patterned nanostructures, which are made up of millions of “optical” circles of different diameters. Devlin: “Just as a curved lens bends light and changes its path by accelerating or decelerating, these techniques all achieve the same effect by changing the diameter of these circles.”

Metalenz meta-optical lens technology enables further miniaturization of imaging devices

“The general idea is to reduce it to its simplest form. So it’s not just a matter of how much control you can get with a 2D plane layer. But also because when you do it in a single layer, it can now This is done in one lithography step, which makes very high-performance optics for imaging electronics.”

A crucial step in this is ensuring that the technology continues to function across a range of environmental conditions.

Devlin said: “We did experiments where we adjusted the temperature from room temperature to 150°C, and we found that the actual optical properties of the lenses themselves were basically unchanged. Compared to plastic lenses, they actually changed a lot, because plastic lenses will It varies greatly with temperature. Thanks to this feature, we also use it in automobiles. In automobiles, glass lenses are generally used due to the stable temperature requirement. With our technology, you can now make it in a semiconductor foundry lenses, they are equivalent in temperature and even better than glass in some cases, and the cost is affordable.”

Market dynamics

Devlin emphasized the importance of this advancement, namely reducing the complexity of the lenses needed for devices such as smartphones, simplifying the manufacture of standard processes, and the temperature stability of glass relative to plastic.

Metalenz meta-optical lens technology enables further miniaturization of imaging devices

“Over the past 20 years, most of the advances in camera and sensing technology in consumer electronics have been in electronics and algorithms, but the technology in optics itself has been slow. At Metalenz, we are enabling new capabilities for lenses, Enables mass production for semiconductor foundries that are producing this Electronic product for the first time. This module not only reduces complexity, but also provides higher performance in light harvesting. The technology of structured light and TOF is complex. What we have What it does is replace three or four different optics with a single layer.”

Devlin noted that Metalenz’s value proposition isn’t just based on lens cost comparisons to reduce costs. “Plastic lenses are cheap, but what we do is help reduce the number and overall cost of including lenses.

While Metalenz was initially targeting smartphones, which could improve 3D sensors and under-Display cameras, Devlin said its next market would be cars. “Our focus is on the automotive industry, which is one of the biggest users of cameras right now.”

Further reading – TDK Ventures invests in high-performance optical sensor innovator Metalenz

Metalenz manufactures a breakthrough high-performance miniature flat lens technology that converts light into a variety of optical systems, including 3D sensing.

Metalenz meta-optical lens technology enables further miniaturization of imaging devices

Metalenses have been ranked as a top ten emerging technology by Weforum with the potential to further miniaturize sensors and other imaging devices.

TDK will leverage its extensive experience in AR/VR, microactuators, smartphone cameras, IoT and manufacturing to accelerate Metalenz’s success

TDK announced that subsidiary TDK Ventures has invested in Metalenz, a pioneer in optical lens technology, as it prepares to leverage its innovative metasurface-based optical solutions to innovate lighting, imaging and Display systems. Metalenz’s latest technology can manipulate light using smaller, lighter and higher-performance components than many traditional bulky optical systems. In particular, Metalenz is developing 3D sensing solutions for the smartphone camera market, enabling new advanced features by replacing existing stacked lenses in smartphones.

“At Metalenz, our vision is to change the way digital optical components work, making them smaller, lighter and higher performing,” said Metalenz CEO and co-founder Robert Devlin. “As TDK becomes an investor and strategic partnership Partners, we will gain access to more experts, tools and market opportunities that will lead to higher levels of functionality and outcomes. It has been an honor to work with the outstanding team at TDK Ventures as they work with us as true partners to do everything in their power to accelerate our success. “

Metalenz’s pioneering solutions enable products to be completed in one step in standard semiconductor manufacturing processes. The company is working with numerous industry partners to bring its ground-breaking products to market, such as devices with Applied Materials, development with Intel and now with TDK in materials science.

Nicolas Sauvage, Managing Director of TDK Ventures, said: “We have been impressed with Metalenz’s bold vision, talented team and incredible execution so far, every step of the way.” At the heart of the build is truly transformative—a technology that could revolutionize existing lenses in smartphones, cameras, laptops, and many IoT devices. We believe this will be an important market opportunity where TDK is eager to invest and contribute in an important way. “

TDK Ventures co-invested with lead investor Tsingyuan Ventures. Shao Xuhui, Managing Partner of Tsingyuan Ventures, said: “Metalenz will revolutionize the world of optics. TDK joined at the right time, providing the team with very valuable expertise and assisting in realizing value in multiple areas. We are excited to join forces with TDK , and look forward to working with them to make Metalenz a great success.”

Compared to other existing lens assemblies, Metalenz, with its thinner, flatter lenses and simpler structure, enables precise control of different wavelengths of light, which was developed by Harvard’s Capasso Research Laboratory using its ultra-thin research over many years. Surfaces and how optical materials affect light to achieve. Metalenz’s co-founders include Professor Federico Capasso, head of the Capasso Research Laboratory.

“Metasurfaces are an incredible innovation in optics. These thin and light components utilize structures smaller than the wavelength of light and can be fabricated by step-by-step semiconductor lithography.” Metalenz Co-Founder and Chairman Kappa Professor Suo said. “TDK is a truly amazing partner as we seek to further expand our capabilities. TDK understands our technology and business and can provide a wealth of resources to help us immediately.”

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