Tiny flat lenses just graduated to full color (and soon, use outside the lab)

harvard flat lenses can now capture color lenfocushighrez2
Jared Sisler/Harvard SEAS
Research on flat lenses supported the idea that future smartphones might not need that camera bump — but only if you wanted to shoot solely in black and white. Now, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have created a flat lens that can focus the entire visible spectrum of light — which means flat lenses just moved from monochrome to full color. The research, published on January 1, has already lead to commercial licensing of the technology.

Each color in the visible spectrum has different qualities — which means if all those colors passed through a flat sheet of glass, they wouldn’t reach the camera sensor at the same time, creating a colored distortion called chromatic aberration. Traditional glass lenses solve this problem by curving the glass so that each color of light reaches the destination at the same exact time.

Flat lenses or metalenses use tiny structures instead of a curve to focus the light. While previous research successfully focused some light with this type of lens, the flat lenses weren’t capable of focusing all the visible colors. Earlier efforts expanded the single wavelength capability of flat lenses to capture blues and greens, but not the full visible specturm.

So how did the researchers give flat lenses full-color capability? By adjusting those tiny structures that focus the light. Rather than single uniform structures across the lens, the research group used pairs of nanostructures. These pairs can control the speed of the light passing through, and by altering that speed, can help ensure all the colors reach the camera sensor at the same time. The nanostructures on the lens are made with titanium dioxide, a material most commonly used in products like paints and cosmetics.

“One of the biggest challenges in designing an achromatic broadband lens is making sure that the outgoing wavelengths from all the different points of the metalens arrive at the focal point at the same time,” said Wei Ting Chen, one of the paper’s authors and a SEAS postdoctoral fellow. “By combining two nanofins into one element, we can tune the speed of light in the nanostructured material, to ensure that all wavelengths in the visible are focused in the same spot, using a single metalens. This dramatically reduces thickness and design complexity compared to composite standard achromatic lenses.”

While the research is the latest in a long history of different studies, the group doesn’t plan on stopping with just the visible light. The group says that creating a larger metalens could have applications in virtual reality, already planning to focus their next research in that area.

Harvard says the technology has already been licensed to a company to develop commercial products, but did not go into further detail as to what type of consumer device the flat lens will first be integrated in.

The full research report is available from Nature Nanotechnology.

Gaming

Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs brings 3D demolition into your living room

Angry Birds is releasing its next entry in the spring of 2019 - with a new spin. Bringing 3D environments and destruction, Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs uses augmented reality to add a new dimension to a classic series.
Computing

Make the most of your toner with our five favorite color laser printers

Color laser printers have improved dramatically over the years, and today's models offer both blazing print speeds and great image quality. Here are our favorite color laser printers, from massive all-in-ones to smaller budget options.
Mobile

Whether by the pool or the sea, make a splash with the best waterproof phones

Whether you're looking for a phone you can use in the bath, or you just want that extra peace of mind, waterproof phones are here and they're amazing. Check out our selection of the best ones you can buy.
Emerging Tech

Check out MIT and Harvard’s unusual new Venus flytrap robot gripper

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have developed a new suction-based soft robot gripper that's capable of picking up an assortment of objects. Check it out.
Photography

Amid confusion, the Red Hydrogen team promises a pro in-device camera

Learning from the Red Hydrogen One, the company is gearing up for a pro-level device. In a forum post, Red's founder shares how the team is designing a Red Hydrogen with a pro-level in-device camera.
Photography

Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 is sharp enough to handle futuristic 90-megapixel cameras

Lens launches come with a lot of hype and marketing speak but a recent test confirmed some of the initial claims around the Sony FE 135 f/1.8. A rental company says that the Sony 135mm is the sharpest lens that it has ever tested.
Photography

Forget folding phones, the Insta360 EVO camera folds in half to shoot 360 video

The Insta360 EVO is a...flip camera? Unfolded, the Insta360 Evo shoots 3D in 180 degrees, folded, the new camera shoots in 360 degrees. The EVO launches with what are essentially a pair of 3D glasses for your phone, not your face, the…
Photography

Obsbot Tail camera uses A.I. to follow the action (or a pet) for you

Want to capture more epic action selfies, or see what your pet is doing while you're gone? The Obsbot Tail is a camera-gimbal combo that uses artificial intelligence to follow the action.
Social Media

Twitter takes a cue from Instagram and Snapchat with new quick-swipe camera

Twitter is giving the "what's happening" treatment to photos and video by allowing users to access the in-app camera fast enough to catch and share the moment. The new Twitter camera is now accessible with a swipe.
Photography

The Lensbaby Composer Pro II with Edge 35 mimics tilt-shift blur for less cash

Want to create a tilt-shift image on a budget? The new Lensbaby Composer II with Edge 35 mimics the look of a tilt-shift lens for under $500. The new Edge 35 optic is part of the Composer Pro II optics system.
Photography

Loupedeck Plus can now edit video, audio with Final Cut Pro

The list of Loupedeck Plus-compatible software is growing. The photo-editing console now works with Final Cut Pro and Adobe Audition for video and audio editing. The controls can be configured to be used on either platform.
Photography

Photography News: Taking a smartphone photo probably saved this guy’s life

A man was snapping a photo in Australia when the smartphone stopped an arrow shot at his face. In this week's photography news, see Canon's plans for a stabilized mirrorless, Hasselblad's newest accessories, Samyang's latest lens, and more.
Deals

The best budget-friendly GoPro alternatives that won’t leave you broke

Cold weather is here, and a good action camera is the perfect way to record all your adventures. You don't need to shell out the big bucks for a GoPro: Check out these great GoPro alternatives, including some 4K cameras, that won’t leave…
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!