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Liquid Lens Can Magnify at the Flick of a Switch 108

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the zap-zoom dept.
An anonymous reader writes "German engineers have designed the first liquid camera lens with no moving parts that provides two levels of zoom. 'Liquid lenses bend light using the curved boundary between watery and oily liquids. When the two liquids are held in the right container, the boundary between them can be made to curve in a way that focuses light simply by applying a voltage. Liquid lenses have attracted much attention because they are potentially smaller than conventional optics and cheaper to build. Samsung has already built them into some cellphones.'"
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Liquid Lens Can Magnify at the Flick of a Switch

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  • by sconeu (64226) on Monday June 11, 2007 @04:55PM (#19470211) Homepage Journal
    Nothing to see here. Move along.
    • Seeing double?? (Score:5, Informative)

      by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Monday June 11, 2007 @05:24PM (#19470655)
      With better lenses we might see that this is a dup. These were reported in the media, and slashdot, a year or so back.
      • by tedgyz (515156) *

        With better lenses we might see that this is a dup. These were reported in the media, and slashdot, a year or so back.
        Sorry if we can't all remember back that far!
        I must have had my beer goggles on.
      • by ozbird (127571)
        With better lenses we might see that this is a dup.

        Don't you mean a mirror?
      • by pakar (813627)
        I remember an old story of something similar many years ago where they where using a gas-lens for lasers to reduce the heat-stress you get on a glass-lens.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Leontes (653331)
      What about using these in reading glasses or goggles. People find bifocles somewhat frustrating due to the disruption to field of vision.

      I can imagine: Let me put on my glasses. Oh, they are set for concave. ::tap:: Presto, convex.

      I guess there *is* something to see.
  • This is old (Score:4, Informative)

    by 2.7182 (819680) on Monday June 11, 2007 @04:55PM (#19470227)
    A guy did this at Bell Labs 2 years ago, and around the same time so did some French company that was going to put them in cell phones.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Wow. It's obvious that you didn't get to the end of the fucking summary: "Samsung has already built them into some cellphones." Yes, it has been around for a short while, but it's still a pretty cool technology that is starting to work it's way into mainstream use.
      • by 2.7182 (819680)
        Read my sig - they did it at Bell in 2003.
      • by hubie (108345)
        That same summary also said that these Germans designed the first liquid lenses. Those Samsung guys must do a pretty quick turnaround.
    • by nick_davison (217681) on Monday June 11, 2007 @05:31PM (#19470747)

      "German engineers have designed the first... Samsung has already built them into some cellphones.'"
      Bell Labs aand Samsung used a time machine. It clearly says the German engineers have just done it first. The only possible explanation for Bell Labs doing it two years ago and Samsung having already built it in to cell phones is that they went forward in time in some kind of a time machine, possibly involving a flux capacitor of some sort, and brought the technology back with them to before it was first implemented.

      That, or it's a badly phrased article.

      In related news, German scientists have designed the first "circular device for the conveying of people and objects" and the first "source for the creation of heat and light by combustion of a 'fuel'." We may mock but the USPTO will still grant them a patent on the lot of it.
    • Re:This is old (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, 2007 @05:44PM (#19470959)
      This is about liquid lenses with zoom capability, which is new.

      Samsung etc. have had liquid lenses, but they haven't been able to do zoom. The German researchers found out how to make it work.
      Hope that helps.
    • by generikz (413613)
      Confirmed, this is old news.

      The French company is Varioptic SA [varioptic.com].

      Rgds,
      Julien
    • And here are some Dutch guys doing it 3 years ago:

      http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/print/4172 [ieee.org]
  • Shake It (Score:5, Funny)

    by Joebert (946227) on Monday June 11, 2007 @05:02PM (#19470329) Homepage
    If I shake it before snapping a photo, do I get a really cool bubble-like effect ?
    • by RedElf (249078)
      You might, but if you shake it even harder you might a liquid mess to clean up afterwards.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        That's what I told your wife too, but she didn't listen....
    • If I shake it before snapping a photo, do I get a really cool bubble-like effect ?

      Only if you Twist and Shout.

      - RG>
  • by KokorHekkus (986906) on Monday June 11, 2007 @05:06PM (#19470385)
    Are there any earlier mentions of liquid lenses before Dune? The article links seems to think he was firtst. Even if there is, it's still a pretty nice catch by Frank Herbert.

    Will you look at that thing! Stilgar whispered. Paul lay beside him in a slit of rock high on the shield wall rim, eye fixed to the collector of a Fremen telescope. The oil lens was focused on a starship lighter exposed by dawn in the basin below them. The tall eastern face of the ship glistened in the flat light of the sun, but the shadow side still showed yellow portholes from glowglobes of the night.
    (ref. source http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=52 [technovelgy.com]
    • by xTantrum (919048)
      i'm not sure if this is the same concept. but you can see a slight effect of this with water in a curved wine glass let's say. you'll notice that the shape of the glass can determine how near or far you can see.

      its actually quite interesting and i remember noticing this and thinking i'd get back to it. but once again, there is nothing new under the sun and we see man simply discovering nature and all her mysteries independant of geography, race or creed. i'm more of an amateur mathematician and i've never

      • Sorry, but liquids bending light does not qualify as a mystery of nature. Theory and math behind optics is taught in high school physics, though of course non-zoomable single-lens scenarios. Your eyes use soft lenses to focus over variable distances.

        The interesting point here that instead of theory, they have a working prototype.
        • by john83 (923470)

          Sorry, but liquids bending light does not qualify as a mystery of nature. Theory and math behind optics is taught in high school physics...
          They teach ray tracing in high school physics. Between that and the real physics - Maxwell's equations - is a bit of a gap.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by shrikel (535309)
      Except in Dune, the oil was suspended in a force field, allowing perfect (and perfectly adjustable) refraction. I've long wanted a telescope like that. No more recollimating my scope every time I take it somewhere out in the boonies over a bumpy dirt road!
      • by pclminion (145572) on Monday June 11, 2007 @08:05PM (#19472477)
        Changing the shape of a lens doesn't adjust its refraction, it just... changes the shape of the lens. Refractivity is a property of the material, not the geometry of the lens.
        • Not quite. Look straight through a flat piece of glass. Not a whole lot of distortion. Now look through a piece of glass with the same radius and volume, but thicker in the center than at the edges. Pretty different, huh?

          The light has to both enter and leave the lens. That's two transitions between materials with different indices of refraction. It matters very much what the angles of incidence are and the relative differences between them.

          The way you've worded your post is pretty much a flat contradiction
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by pclminion (145572)

            The way you've worded your post is pretty much a flat contradiction of all optics since Newton. Go look up what a lens is.

            I didn't say the shape of a lens doesn't matter. I said it doesn't alter the refractivity (and by that I mean its index of refraction). Of COURSE it alters the behavior of the lens. Refractivity is an intensive property, the geometry of the lens is an extensive property.

            Perhaps my wording wasn't as clear as it should have been. The point stands that the shape of a lens does not alt

          • by hubie (108345)

            The other guy posting is correct: refraction is only a property of the material and doesn't depend on the shape of the optic. Ultimately where the light rays go and their dependence on the shape of the optic enters into it via Snell's law [wolfram.com].

            If you take a slab of material with a constant index of refraction, you can change the path of light rays going through it by changing the shape of the surface of a material, just like you describe. Another way to do it is to take a flat slab of material, like looking

        • by shrikel (535309)
          I think you're confusing refraction and index of refraction (or refractive index, or refractivity). Light refraction is the changing of the direction of the light, which happens because of differing indices of refraction between two media and non-perpendicular angles of incidence. Changing the angle of incidence (by changing the shape of the lens) changes the refraction, though the INDEX of refraction of that particular material stays constant.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by obender (546976)

      Are there any earlier mentions of liquid lenses before Dune?
      In the Mysterious Island novel by Jules Verne published in 1874, Cyrus Harding lits a fire with a lens made up of two watch glass lids stuck together and filled up with water. You can read the chapter here [online-literature.com]
      • Very nice reference! I recall reading that story (quite some while ago though :). Not a zoom lens (as in Dune or in the article)... but to me it's still definitly a precursor the idea of a non-fixed liquid lens.
      • That explains the Wells/Verne Patent Extension Act I read about a few years ago when I was visiting 2010.
    • by frankmu (68782)
      asimov in "foundation and empire" had a force field lens of some sort i think. darn, all of my scifi books are at my parents house!
    • by TrixX (187353)
      There are previous references, in anatomy books. You are probably using two adjustable (for focus, not zoom) liquid lenses to read this reply, unless you get a braille or aural representation of /.
    • by Pieroxy (222434)
      Given it's more or less the way our eye lens works, I'd say God (or Darwin, pick your choice) got the precedence over there. Just because it's written in a SciFi book doesn't quite mean it's new.
  • by c_jonescc (528041) on Monday June 11, 2007 @05:20PM (#19470599)
    This immediately reminded me of a talk I saw recently by Guoqiang Li from U. of Arizona. They're using liquid crystal lenses to make glasses with variable focusing power as a function of applied voltage. You could flip a switch to be able to see near or far - so if you're near-sighted but getting to the age where reading glasses would help, you're the touch of a button away.

    Liquid zoom is quite cool too, but thought this related enough to pass on.

    fyi:
    http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/84/i15/8415lenses.htm l
    (PNAS citation in article)
  • Hubble (Score:4, Funny)

    by tedgyz (515156) * on Monday June 11, 2007 @05:22PM (#19470611) Homepage
    It sure would have made fixing the Hubble a lot easier.

    Earth to Hubble: Adjust lens voltage to 1.537mV.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Except, of course, that Hubble's MIRROR had spherical abberation and this is talking about lenses....
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tedgyz (515156) *

        Except, of course, that Hubble's MIRROR had spherical abberation and this is talking about lenses....
        Ok, so fill the "lens" with Mercury. Work with me here.
    • Uh no, Hubble uses mirrors.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      But if the Hubble used liquid lenses instead of mirrors...

      Wouldn't it be the Bubble Space telescope?
    • Forget the Hubble, think how much some one who wore trifocals would ware for a pair of glasses that could sense distance and adjust. Or how much I would pay for my distance glasses to 'turn off' if I was reading. I would put up with a bit more bulk on my face because it would reduce eye strain.
      • by john83 (923470)

        ...Or how much I would pay for my distance glasses to 'turn off' if I was reading. I would put up with a bit more bulk on my face because it would reduce eye strain.
        You could just take them off.
        • Yeah, but that's no help when driving. Taking my glasses off each time I check my speedometer is not an option. The eye strain is caused by activities that involving looking up and down a lot; taking notes, driving, drawing, ect.
  • by Palmyst (1065142) on Monday June 11, 2007 @05:25PM (#19470673)
    If it contains liquid?
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Your body also contains liquids, and the combination of the two pushes you over the FAA "fear threshold" -- they'll let you on with the camera but only if you freeze-dry yourself first.
    • Yes, but less than 3 oz- so don't pack that telephoto lens.
    • No. -The TSA
  • ...could you somehow have a lens with multiple focus points? I'm thinking if you have 4 people in a picture you could focus on each of their faces with one lens and have a nice picture with everyone in focus rather than someone in the background a bit blurry.
    • by Achromatic1978 (916097) <robert&chromablue,net> on Monday June 11, 2007 @05:59PM (#19471121)
      Uhh, no need. You can do that with glass lenses. Its called depth-of-field, aperture, etc. The higher the f number, the deeper it is. Up the f, increase the depth of field, everyone is in focus (at the cost of decreased shutter speed - the f number is a ratio of 1/x of the diameter of the lens, so less light). Down the f number and you get nice portraits where only a small DOF exists and everything forward, or back, is out of focus.
      • Up the f, increase the depth of field, everyone is in focus

        That is, until diffraction effects start to kick in. Had to learn that one the hard way: shooting product shots at a maximum f/29 until discovering mysteriously sharper images at f/12. Now, I'll admit I don't know how much of that truly is diffraction (as opposed to a cheaper lens), but do I know it's something to consider.

        • by hubie (108345)

          The effect of diffraction is pretty easy to calculate (assuming both your lenses are "perfect" and have circular apertures). The size of the blur spot due to diffraction is roughly 2.44*L*F, where L is the wavelength of light and F is the f-number. So, your f/29 lens has a blur spot that is a little bigger than twice that of the f/12 lens. If you are talking about a digital camera, than it is a bit simpler to compare the blur spot against the pixel size. If it is on film, then you need to compare it aga

      • Uhh, no need. You can do that with glass lenses. Its called depth-of-field, aperture, etc.

        Depth of field just means that sharpness decreases more or less gradually for points at planes parallel to the plane of focus, so that if you aperture is small enough, you get acceptable practical sharpness at a range of distances from the lens, and not just at the plane of focus.

        The crucial thing is that by using depth of field, you have the following limitations:

        1. Every point that you want to be sharp in the imag
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by migloo (671559)
      If you have coaxial annular lenses, each with its own focal length, you get as many focal planes. You can thus make a multifocused picture at the cost of more blurry background.
      This has been used for bifocal soft lenses for presbyopia. Focus splitting with diffraction gratings is more commonly used now.
    • ...could you somehow have a lens with multiple focus points? I'm thinking if you have 4 people in a picture you could focus on each of their faces with one lens and have a nice picture with everyone in focus rather than someone in the background a bit blurry.

      You don't want multiple focal planes: you want to focus light from different planes to the same focus (the film, detector, whatever). But to answer your question, no - this would not work, no matter what lens medium and scheme you had.

  • Wouldn't the curving of the liquid layers be considered a moving part?
  • Would be neat to have this on glasses or something like that. Your glasses can double as reading/seeing glasses, if you need a different prescription or something for different activities. I imagine it wouldn't take much power, just charge them when you go to sleep or something.
  • i might be wrong, in fact, very likely to be wrong, but wouldn't applying voltage cause hydrogen, or other gasses to be released from the water, and thus reduce the life span of the lens if it has to do much refocusing? and even so, wouldnt the released gasses interfere with the focusing?
  • by soren100 (63191)
    This liquid lens technology sounds like it might really help create tiny and cheap cameras that people can use to bring more justice to the world.

    It seems that police brutality is getting so common now that they are willing to beat members of the media on camera [youtube.com]. (The clip begins with the narrator suggesting that the protestors were "asking for it" by throwing rocks at the police, but they can't spin the footage of their own camerapeople getting beaten up.)

    What's worse, is that police now tend to focus o
  • From the summary:

    German engineers have designed the first liquid camera lens... Samsung has already built them into some cellphones.
    If it's the first liquid camera lens, then how has Samsung already built them into their cellphones?
    • by lagfest (959022)
      Maybe they are referring to the two levels of zoom as the new feature.
    • I bought a canon sd600 a few months ago, and it died on my second glamis trip. Sand (from the air, it was never dropped) ruined the lense. So I bought an Optio W30 instead. No moving parts to get sand in.

      So if this is such old news, why don't cameras use this technology? Because then they would last too long?
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      you, my friend, are great at missing context.

      it's the first liquid lens system that is capable of variable levels of magnification with no moving parts.

      then the summary mentions some crap about liquid lenses in general.

      and then it mentions how samsung is already using liquid lenses in their cell phones.

      no, it doesn't suggest that they use liquid lens systems with variable magnification and no moving parts.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      because there was some time between the discovery and the time it was being reported on? During that time Samsung developed the camera?

  • A little earlier (Score:2, Interesting)

    by UtilityFog (654576)
    from here [microscopy-uk.org.uk]: In the Philosophical Transactions (Abridged), Volume 4, 1694-1702 pp. 97-101 + 1 plate, there is an article by Stephen Gray on "Microscopical Observations and Experiments" in which Mr. Gray explains the making of a water microscope.
  • I believe one of the early English astronomical refractor telescopes (one of William Herschel's iirc, possibly the 20-foot one) had a lens made of two hemispherical pieces of glass filled with white wine.
    • I believe one of the early English astronomical refractor telescopes (one of William Herschel's iirc, possibly the 20-foot one) had a lens made of two hemispherical pieces of glass filled with white wine.

      The first beer goggle prelude?
  • from the summary (Score:1, Redundant)

    by mrcdeckard (810717)
    this:

    "German engineers have designed the first liquid camera lens

    and this:

    Samsung has already built them into some cellphones.'"


    i'm not a grammar nazi, but 180 degree contradiction makes the whole summary meaningless. . .

    mr c
  • Thanks, but I think I'll stick with Nikon's ED glass and mechanical movement. The liquid lens might work for cheap crappy images, but real photographers are amazingly picky about their glass. We buy into a lens system - the camera is just an accessory to the lens.
    • How do you know the quality of this new lens; have you seen many pictures using them, or do you have a working theory that shows liquid lenses will produce poor quality images? Surely liquid is a good road to go down, since you can tailor the material to the purpose. Glass isn't as flexible. (No pun intended.)
      • How do you know the quality of this new lens; have you seen many pictures using them, or do you have a working theory that shows liquid lenses will produce poor quality images?

        I haven't seen any images taken with these new liquid lenses but I think I'll stick with glass for a little while. It has only been perfected as an optical material for the last 150-200 years. Exactly how long has liquid been used for this purpose? Just like many other innovations in the photographic industry, these are likely to n

        • It has only been perfected as an optical material for the last 150-200 years.


          The same could be said about film. Even professionals seem to be using a lot of CCDs today. "Older is better" is not an argument. "Liquid lenses suffer from fundamental geometric limitations" is, but that is not what you said.
          • You can't just lump all photography under the same category. There's still no substitute for film in the field of large format photography. The largest commercially available digital (one-shot, not scan) back is still at least three times smaller than a 4x5" sheet of film. And those backs cost 25,000+.
            • My point was he simply stated the liquid lenses are not suitable for development because they were new. I didn't say CCDs had replaced film throughout the industry, but they are definitely a solid option for several different types of photography, even though they a few hundred years in development behind film.
      • by hubie (108345)
        You can make a pretty good educated guess, or guesses. The liquid surface tension will want to pull the lens into a spherical shape, which doesn't give great imaging performance (especially off axis). Also, if only one lens is used, then you'll get chromatic distortions where your image quality depends on the wavelengths of light. I would be interested to see whether the camera phones that use these lenses give better images than those that used a fixed focus lens.
        • Yes, exactly. I'd like to see them do aspherical lenses with those Liquid Tension Experiments.
  • What, there are several of us, now ?
    P.S.: Hint: look at my username
  • I first read that as "liquor lens" and thought somebody had finally made a working pair of beer goggles...

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