New Liquid Lens Digital Camera Tech

Philips is demonstrating a new fluid lens camera technology that has no moving parts. The new lens mimics how the human eye works to focus and see. The technology has a high probability of ending up in future PDA and smartphone devices.

Philips' FluidFocus system mimics the action of the human eye using a fluid lens that alters its focal length by changing its shape. The new lens, which lends itself to high volume manufacturing, overcomes the fixed-focus disadvantages of many of today’s low-cost imaging systems.

The lens consists of two immiscible (non-mixing) fluids of different refractive index (optical properties), one an electrically conducting aqueous solution and the other an electrically non-conducting oil, contained in a short tube with transparent end caps. The internal surfaces of the tube wall and one of its end caps are coated with a hydrophobic (water-repellent) coating that causes the aqueous solution to form itself into a hemispherical mass at the opposite end of the tube, where it acts as a spherically curved lens.

New Liquid Lens Digital Camera TechThe shape of the lens is adjusted by applying an electric field across the hydrophobic coating such that it becomes less hydrophobic – a process called 'electrowetting' that results from an electrically induced change in surface-tension. As a result of this change in surface-tension the aqueous solution begins to wet the sidewalls of the tube, altering the radius of curvature of the meniscus between the two fluids and hence the focal length of the lens. By increasing the applied electric field the surface of the initially convex lens can be made completely flat (no lens effect) or even concave. As a result it is possible to implement lenses that transition smoothly from being convergent to divergent and back again.

In the FluidFocus technology demonstrator will be exhibited by Philips Research at CeBIT 2004, the fluid lens measures a mere 3 mm in diameter by 2.2 mm in length, making it easy to incorporate into miniature optical products. The focal range provided by the demonstrator extends from 5 cm to infinity and it is extremely fast: switching over the full focal range is obtained in less than 10 ms. Controlled by a dc voltage and presenting a capacitive load, the lens consumes virtually zero power, which for battery powered portable applications gives it a real advantage. The durability of the lens is also very high, Philips having already tested the lens with over 1 million focusing operations without loss of optical performance. It also has the potential to be both shock resistant and capable of operating over a wide temperature range, suiting it for mobile applications. Its construction is regarded as compatible with high-volume manufacturing techniques.

Article Comments


The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. PalmInfocenter is not responsible for them in any way.
Please Login or register here to add your comments.

Comments Closed Comments Closed
This article is no longer accepting new comments.


first post

killah fury @ 3/5/2004 5:15:29 PM #
wow - that's amazing technology...

RE: first post
tfftruoa @ 3/5/2004 8:25:18 PM #
It really is amazing stuff.

Out of curiousity, in PDA/Cell camera, is there any issues with the current lenses as far as bad focus and power consumption?

The Federation for the Responsible Use of Acronyms

RE: first post
RhinoSteve @ 3/6/2004 4:31:52 AM #
Yes, this is a great innovation. However, this project is not solely the genesis of civilian R&D. Liquid lens systems have been used in military optical systems for over 20 years. Most application has been bomb sights, sniper scopes and forward observing.

There is a lot of application here and most of all, less moving parts. An microcontroller with some DACs and the right control circuitry replace a stepper motor driven rack and pinion system.

Thus, this is yet another "tactical to practical" transition thanks to DARPA. While Phillips is claming the invention, I'd bet good money there is an American DARPA document in some Philips researcher's desk.

But I have to say, seeing the technology this small is impressive.

Restorative Application of the Technology?

dagwud @ 3/5/2004 5:04:17 PM #
I'd read about this earlier today, but until I saw a picture of how small it is, I didn't think about another possible alternative - eye replacment.

Sure, the technology to send images to the human brain via technology isn't effective yet. But as small as this camera is, it's not hard to think of a replacement eyeball as a possible future application. A permanent "base" in the eye socket, and the ball can come out at night for recharging.

Ok, peripheral vision would BITE, but for those who can't see at all, it could literally change their view of the world.

RE: Restorative Application of the Technology?
Tungstenman @ 3/5/2004 5:44:51 PM #
yikes but if you had an infection with that, it would be nasty, though with proper precautions not likely. :-)

A Palm in one hand is worth 2 PocketPCs
: )
-Steve B.
RE: Restorative Application of the Technology?
Analytical @ 3/6/2004 7:13:17 AM #
You would need to make sure that you have some good AV software built in so that it didn't get infected ;-)

Otherwise you couldn't be held responsible by the misses as to why you eye was always looking at someone/something.

as for taking it out to charge it you could use one of those new wireless charging mats in your pillow.


RE: Restorative Application of the Technology?
mstur @ 3/6/2004 12:19:40 PM #
This is a LENS, not an EYE !!

All you could replace is the human lens. And this is done everyday with small, inexpensive lenses made our of plastic or silicone during cataract surgery, which is the most frequent surgical procedure...

There are even now lenses available which can restore near accommodation, using the existing eye muscles. So this fluid lens has no place in humans..,


RE: Restorative Application of the Technology?
dagwud @ 3/6/2004 2:59:17 PM #
mstur, you're missing the point, probably because you didn't pay attention.

I never said that this might be used to replace a faulty lens. I said this might be used as a part of a prosthetic device to replace the whole eye.

Lens replacement doesn't do a darned thing for those who've lost an entire eye through accident or illness. There are no muscles left to which to attach the lens.

RE: Restorative Application of the Technology?
Calroth @ 3/6/2004 7:00:22 PM #
Creating a lens is the easy bit... that's just a bit of fluid.

The hard part is creating a retina (the bit which transforms light into signals, like the CCD), and interfacing it with the optic nerve. We're still a few years off with that one. Although IIRC there have been limited trials already, going off a 5x5 pixel resolution or such.

RE: Restorative Application of the Technology?
mfallas @ 3/8/2004 7:09:56 PM #
OK... but then, back to the virus stuff... you gotta be careful, because then the infection could be automatically replicated to all the people you usually look at... hmmm... dangerous...

Now, more seriously, I don't think this coud be used as a replacement for the human eye, at least not by now. How will you turn digital signals into analogic signals for brain decodification?
Too Sci-Fi for me...

RE: Restorative Application of the Technology?
dagwud @ 3/8/2004 10:39:44 PM #
Let's all note that I never said that this COULD be a replacement *now*, but that it was a step in that direction at some point in the future. And the point wasn't that small lenses are new, but that small lenses that are NOT fixed focus are what would be needed to replace the human lens.

As for being "too sci-fi", check out the the Dobelle Institute's web page at or read the report from TechTV at

Today's "Sci-fi" is tomorrow's reality.

RE: Restorative Application of the Technology?
rcartwright @ 3/11/2004 4:03:57 PM #
One present day application might be a set of glasses or a headpiece that would allow for "adustable" eyeglasses. I would surely love a pair of eyeglasses that would allow me to see small print. I seem to be going through a new pair of glasses every 18 months or so because the #$!% print gets smaller every year

In the workplace, people doing close work or inspections could find this useful as well.

Life is a great adventure or nothing.

Wow ……

benixau @ 3/6/2004 7:53:44 AM #
Its times like this that i sit back at my computer and chuckle in amazement at what we can create.

This just blows me away - that thing is almost as good as a human eye at focusing - not to mention as small.

Now THIS IS james-bond class technology

Small and easy to lose!

euan_rideout @ 3/6/2004 12:12:54 PM #
It is great how technology is getting on now but the smaller you can get the easer it is to lose these samll expensive pieces of equipment!

RE: Small and easy to lose!
TTrules @ 3/8/2004 6:21:23 PM #
It would be in a camera, making it pretty hard to lose.

One Palm to rule them all!

uh, cost, anyone?

beardsm87 @ 3/6/2004 1:45:39 PM #
Sure it's cool and it'll be in almost every new modern handheld device, but what are the cost implications? are they easy to make...will they make handhelds cheaper in the long run?
RE: uh, cost, anyone?
tfftruoa @ 3/6/2004 9:57:23 PM #
From what I understood of the new technology, it's actually cheaper than existing lenses since there are no motors required to drive it. This is just my guess, of course, since these things arn't being mass produced yet.

The Federation for the Responsible Use of Acronyms

Ultimate Plam!

euan_rideout @ 3/9/2004 2:18:48 PM #
It would be so cool if PalmOne would make a palm that will have this camera, tons of memory, Palm Colbat OS and an ultra resolution screen!

So how about the MB? Will it have 1.0 MB, 2.0, ...?

shleimun @ 3/10/2004 9:31:53 AM #
So how about the MB? Will it have 1.0 MB, 2.0, ...?



Register Register | Login Log in