June 27, 2022, Stewart Wills, Optica (Formerly OSA)
In the past decade, academic research labs have published increasingly dazzling results demonstrating the rich potential of metasurfaces. These planar materials, decorated with collections of nanostructures and nanopatterns, can shape and direct light in intricately engineered ways, doing the heavy lifting of multiple optical components in a single 2D surface.
In principle, these accomplished engineered surfaces could radically reduce system size and complexity in a range of applications. But impressive as they’ve been in the lab, the use of metasurfaces in actual commercial devices has always seemed just out of reach—something that would happen at some point in the future, perhaps, but not quite today.
Now Metalenz, an early-stage company spun out of the research group of Optica Fellow Federico Capasso at Harvard University six years ago—says it has crossed that threshold.
A recently announced partnership between Metalenz and STMicroelectronics marks optical revolutions for the 3D sensor market.
June 13, 2022 Peter Fretty, Editor, Laser Focus World
There is growing excitement around the metalens—and for good reason. Metasurfaces provide manufacturers with the ability to replace the three or four lenses (often from multiple suppliers) commonly used in complex optical systems with one single flat lens. Consider, for instance, the 3D sensing systems popular in many consumer devices such as Face ID used to open an iPhone.
“The beautiful part about metasurfaces is the ability to produce it using existing semiconductor processes,” says Metalenz (Boston, MA) CEO and co-founder Robert Devlin. “It’s moving optics into the same semiconductor foundries making the electronics, resulting in a reduction in complexity.”
Often, reducing the complexity of an optical system means compromising performance. However, the reverse has been true with the first commercial deployment for the Harvard-born startup. “We have seen improvement in overall performance, including how much light is going where it’s needed at the image sensor,” says Devlin. “And since we are moving optics into the semiconductor fab, it also serves as a means of supply chain consolidation.”
Metalenz metasurfaces are now on the market through its partnership with STMicroelectronics, marking the introduction of this revolutionary optical technology in real-world devices
Boston, MA and Geneva, Switzerland – June 9, 2022 – Metalenz, the first company to commercialize meta-optics, and STMicroelectronics (NYSE: STM), a global semiconductor leader serving customers across the spectrum of electronics applications, today announce that ST’s currently released VL53L8 direct Time-of-Flight (dToF) sensor is the highly anticipated market debut of the meta-optics devices developed through their partnership, which was disclosed in June 2021.
Metalenz’s Harvard-born, meta-optics technology can replace existing complex and multi-element lenses and provide additional functionality with a single meta-optic embedded in time-of-flight (ToF) modules from ST, the leading company in supplying 3D sensing modules. The introduction of Metalenz technology in these modules brings performance, power, size, and cost advantages to a multitude of consumer, automotive, and industrial applications. This marks the first time metasurface technology is commercially available and being used in consumer devices.
Unlike traditional molded and curved lenses, Metalenz’s novel optics are completely planar. Planar metasurface optics are now being manufactured on silicon wafers alongside electronics in ST’s semiconductor front-end fabs for the first time. The meta-optics collect more light, provide multiple functions in a single layer, and enable new forms of sensing in smartphones and other devices, while taking up less space. Metalenz’s flat-lens technology replaces certain existing optics in ST’s FlightSense™ ToF modules, which serve applications such as smartphones, drones, robots, and vehicles. In these, ST has sold more than 1.7 billion units to date.
“More than a decade of foundational research has brought us to this point. Market deployment of our meta-optics makes this the first metasurface technology to become commercially available,” said Rob Devlin, co-founder and CEO of Metalenz. “ST’s technology, manufacturing expertise, and global reach allow us to impact millions of consumers. We have multiple wins that mark the first application of our platform technology and we are now designing entire systems around its unique functionality. Our meta-optics enable exciting new markets and new sensing capabilities in mobile form factors and at a competitive price.”
ST is a leader and leading innovator in ToF sensing technology that uses the speed of light to accurately calculate proximity. The sensor precisely measures the time a photon, traveling at 299,792,458 meters/sec, takes to travel to and reflect back from a surface. From its first ToF sensor, ST and its technology have helped revolutionize autofocus in smartphone cameras and, with presence detection and gesture recognition, improve security and power efficiency in mobile and computing applications.
Perfectly complementing ST’s advanced manufacturing capabilities and ToF technology, the introduction of products embedding Metalenz’s game-changing metasurface optics now enables significant power efficiency, optical performance, and module-size optimization that all bring benefit across consumer, industrial, and automotive markets,” said Eric Aussedat, Executive Vice President and General Manager of ST’s Imaging Sub-Group. “Initially targeting applications using near-infrared wavelengths, especially for 3D sensing, the products we’re introducing with Metalenz are perfectly suited for applications like face authentication, camera assist, consumer LIDAR, and AR/VR, where depth mapping is needed.”
The partnership of Metalenz IP with ST Manufacturing Technology brings the incredible accuracy and precision of electronics chip industry to make very precise and repeatable meta-optics that unlock this completely new way to make lenses that combine very high quality and large-scale cost-effective manufacturing.
Metalenz, founded in 2016, is the first company to commercialize meta-optics. With exclusive worldwide license to the portfolio of foundational intellectual property relating to metasurfaces developed in the Capasso Lab at Harvard University, Metalenz has more than 20 patents on innovations that simplify and improve optical devices across multiple markets. The company’s meta-surface technology provides complex, multifunctional optical performance in a single semiconductor layer, relocating large-scale production of optics to semiconductor foundries—printing lenses like computer chips. Metalenz launched out of stealth in 2021 with funding from leading investors including 3M Ventures, Applied Ventures LLC, Intel Capital, M Ventures, TDK Ventures, and Foothill Ventures. Now in market, Metalenz optics will be in millions of consumer devices this year. To partner with Metalenz and learn more about how they’re revolutionizing optical sensing in consumer electronics and beyond, visit: metalenz.com.
About STMicroelectronics At ST, we are 48,000 creators and makers of semiconductor technologies mastering the semiconductor supply chain with state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities. An integrated device manufacturer, we work with more than 200,000 customers and thousands of partners to design and build products, solutions, and ecosystems that address their challenges and opportunities, and the need to support a more sustainable world. Our technologies enable smarter mobility, more efficient power and energy management, and the wide-scale deployment of the Internet of Things and connectivity. ST is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2027. Further information can be found at www.st.com.
Metalenz announced today that chip giant ST Micro’s latest product incorporates its metasurface technology that puts flat lenses in consumer products like smartphones, laptops, smart home devices, even cars.
“The meta-optics collect more light, provide multiple functions in a single layer, and enable new forms of sensing in smartphones and other devices, while taking up less space,” the company said in a statement. “Metalenz’s flat-lens technology replaces certain existing optics in ST’s FlightSense ToF modules, which serve applications such as smartphones, drones, robots, and vehicles. In these, ST has sold more than 1.7 billion units to date.”
Crucially, Metalenz’ tech is printed like computer chips in silicon wafers, which means mass production at very low cost.
“We use the exact same fabs that make electronics,” Metalenz CEO Rob Devlin told me in a phone conversation. “That’s why we can go from 0 to 100s of millions of devices on-market in very small time. On a single wafer we can print 5,000 to 10,000 lenses, so we can produce tens of thousands of wafers in a week or less, and can get to a million in single day.”
Since the pandemic caused a digital transformation for many companies and locked everyone at home, the need for technology suitable to use from home has only increased. One type of technology that can help make life easier is meta-optics.
According to Rob Devlin, “We have the ability to bring equipment that has previously lived in scientific or medical laboratories into the palm of every person’s hand. Proliferating these complicated optical modules allows us to eventually change everything from easier home health to improving the security of our personal devices.”
To learn more about meta-optics, what they are, and how they work, Cybernews invited Rob Devlin, the CEO of Metalenz – a company that manufactures meta-optics into high volume applications.
Boston, MA, Jan. 24, 2022 – Metalenz Inc., the pioneer in metasurface design and commercialization, today unveiled the Gemini™ product family, switchable illumination optics based on foundational polarization IP. With a single meta-optic, the Gemini products offer simple, dynamic illumination to address more applications through electronically toggling of optimized illumination patterns — something that is not possible with current refractive lenses and diffractive element optical stacks.
Metalenz has also announced a recent collaboration with Trumpf to demonstrate switchable illumination modules with Metalenz’s multifunctional-optic and Trumpf’s polarization addressable VCSELs.
Before there was a “metaverse,” before there were crypto millionaires, before nearly every kid in America wanted to be an influencer, the most-hyped thing in tech was “nanotechnology.” “Nano-,” for those who could use a refresher, means “one billionth,” and nanotechnology generally refers to materials manipulated at an atomic or molecular scale.
Imagine a camera that’s mounted on your car being able to identify black ice on the road, giving you a heads-up before you drive over it. Or a cell phone camera that can tell whether a lesion on your skin is possibly cancerous. Or the ability for Face ID to work even when you have a face mask on. These are all possibilities Metalenz is touting with its new PolarEyes polarization technology.
Last year, the company unveiled a flat-lens system called optical metasurfaces for mobile devices that took up less space while purportedly producing similar- if not better-quality images than a traditional smartphone camera. Instead of using multiple lens elements stacked on top of each other—the design used in most phone cameras, which necessitates a bulky “camera bump”—Metalenz’s solution relies on a single lens outfitted with nanostructures that bend light rays and deliver them to the camera’s sensor, producing an image with levels of brightness and clarity on par with photos captured by traditional systems. Rob Devlin, CEO of Metalenz, says we’ll see this tech in a product in the second quarter of 2022.
However, consider Metalenz’s latest announcement a second-generation version that might crop up inside devices in 2023. It’s built on the same technology, but the nanostructures can now maintain polarization information in light. Normal cameras, like the ones in our phones, don’t capture this data but simply focus on light intensity and color. But with an additional stream of data, our phones might soon learn some new tricks.
Tech sees differently, and can fuse multiple types of data we can’t even perceive: lidar, IR, ultrasonic and so on. Metalenz, maker of highly compact “2D” cameras for advanced sensing, hopes to bring polarized light into the mix for security and safety with its PolarEyes tech.
Polarization isn’t a quality of light that’s often paid much attention. It has to do with the orientation of the photon’s movement as it waves its way through the air, and generally you can get the info you need from light without checking its polarization. But that doesn’t mean it’s useless.
“Polarization generally gets thrown out, but it really can tell you something about what the objects you’re looking at are made out of. And it can find contrast that normal cameras can’t see,” said Metalenz co-founder and CEO Rob Devlin. “In healthcare, it’s been used historically to tell whether a cell is cancerous or not — the color and intensity don’t change in the visible light, but looking at polarization it works.”
Metalenz Inc. partners with global semiconductor leader STMicroelectronics to develop manufacturing processes for Metalenz’s meta-optics technology for next-generation smartphones, consumer devices, healthcare, and automotive applications.
The technology developed by Metalenz is a perfect complement to ST’s advanced capabilities. Combining semiconductor manufacturing and optics, ST will use advanced lithographic masks to build tunable diffractive-wavefront layers on a meta-surface in a semiconductor wafer fab. Like silicon ICs, the flat meta-surface lenses are processed in a semiconductor cleanroom using the same manufacturing technology. The lenses will feature nanostructures one-thousandth the width of a human hair. These nanostructures appropriately bend light rays to realize in a single layer the same functionality as a complex multi-element refractive lens system.
Metalenz Launches Orion™, the World’s Simplest, Most Compact Dot Pattern Projector.
Metalenz’s simpler dot projectors enable 3D sensing to proliferate to all smartphones.
Metalenz has secured high volume manufacturing partnerships and has customers in the queue, with broad availability of evaluation kits in June.
[Boston, MA, May 2021]: Metalenz Inc., the pioneer in metasurface design and commercialization, today unveiled the OrionTM product family, the world’s simplest, high performance dot projectors. Current dot projectors, used in mobile devices for features like facial recognition and 3D sensing, have been a logistic and aesthetic headache for cell phone manufacturers—eating up valuable space, interrupting the phone display and requiring complex assembly of many different components. Using its patented metasurface technology, the Orion product family is a simplified and more efficient solution that is bound to displace refractive lens and diffractive element optical stacks with a single meta-optic.
“If you look at dot projectors in cell phones today, these are some of the most complex and bulky modules in the phone.” said Robert Devlin, co-founder/CEO, Metalenz. “The size, complexity, and cost has limited 3D sensing and face unlock to just the top tier cell phone companies. What Metalenz provides with our meta-optic technology is the simplest possible approach. We’re able to improve the system level performance while replacing as many as six optics in the current modules with a single meta-optic. This results in a size reduction in all three dimensions. Ultimately, the Orion product line will enable under-display sensing and allow much broader adoption of 3D sensing and face unlock features across all cell phones.”
Metalenz’s patented Orion product line is set to replace current 3D optical configurations in smartphones because of its advantages:
Simpler – replaces as many as six optical parts in an illumination system (refractive lenses, mirrors, DOE) with a single meta-optic piece.
Smaller – collapses form factor to fit in the tightest of spaces, hiding under screens or in the tiniest of nooks in a phone.
Brighter – light projected to where it is needed the most for high resolution constellations or out far out distances, balancing performance and power savings.
Better – architecture drastically lowers assembly complexity and cost to drive more depth sensing sockets for user authentication and AR.
The advantages of Orion products extend to both structured light (SL) and time of flight (ToF) 3D depth sensing solutions. The meta-optics improve system level signal-to-noise-ratio, resulting in better performance in sunlight, higher resolution, longer sensing distances, and improved battery life.
The Orion 50TM, the highest dot density product in the family, boasts more than 50,000 projected dots with an optical module height thin enough for the most advanced mobile devices. It radically simplifies what has traditionally been a six element stack (four refractive lenses, mirrors to achieve a folded optical path, and a DOE) into one single meta-optic system. Orion 50 means component reduction, tiny size, performance we are accustomed to, and dramatically easier manufacturing. This simplification will enable more phone makers to put sensors and cameras beneath a device’s glass display and ultimately in the palms of our hands.
On the flip side, smartphones with world-facing (a.k.a the back of the phone) 3D depth sensing cameras deliver professional looking photography effects like bokeh and are enabling emerging AR applications. Depth sensing cameras rely on active illumination of the scene with lasers and capture of reflected light with specialized ToF sensors. Illuminating brighter to cover greater distances and flooding the scene for long periods of time can be a major drain on a phone’s battery life. These are the antithesis of bringing forth more immersive and encompassing AR applications.
Orion 2.5TM projects 2,500 high intensity dots into the scene so more light will travel the distance back to the image sensor. High resolution depth information is made possible at distances of 10 meters or more. Orion 2.5 conserves power and enables a new arena for AR in smartphones, head mounted displays, and consumer electronics. It stays true to the Orion family roots – simpler, brighter, better optics – while doing away with system complexity and driving down the barriers for integration and board adoption.
With its recent flat-lens technological achievements, manufacturing partnerships in place, and growing customer list, Metalenz is poised to revolutionize sensing in smartphones and consumer electronics.
Evaluation kits of Orion will be available in late June. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Metalenz, founded in 2016 is the first company to commercialize meta-optics. The company is backed by leading investors including 3M, Applied Ventures LLC, Intel Capital, M Ventures and TDK Ventures. The company has the exclusive worldwide license to the portfolio of foundational intellectual property relating to metasurfaces developed in the Capasso Lab at Harvard University and has more than 20 patents on innovations that simplify and improve optical devices across multiple markets. Recently featured in TechCrunch, Wired, The New York Times, and Forbes. For more information, please visit https://www.metalenz.com/
Metamaterials, which could improve smartphones and change how we use other technology, allow scientists to control light waves in new ways.
Imagine operating a computer by moving your hands in the air as Tony Stark does in “Iron Man.” Or using a smartphone to magnify an object as does the device that Harrison Ford’s character uses in “Blade Runner.” Or a next-generation video meeting where augmented reality glasses make it possible to view 3-D avatars. Or a generation of autonomous vehicles capable of driving safely in city traffic.
These advances and a host of others on the horizon could happen because of metamaterials, making it possible to control beams of light with the same ease that computer chips control electricity.
The term metamaterials refers to a broad class of manufactured materials composed of structures that are finer than the wavelength of visible light, radio waves and other types of electromagnetic radiation. Together, they are now giving engineers extraordinary control in designing new types of ultracheap sensors that range from a telescope lens to an infrared thermometer.
“Today’s smartphone cameras can make a better image than cameras I paid NZ$10,000 ($7,110; £5,165) for only 20 years ago,” says Tom Ang, an Auckland-based professional photographer and author of more than 30 books on digital photography.
The cameras embedded in our smartphones have become so good, many of those too young to remember anything different would scoff at the idea of carting around a separate camera.
While Mr Ang is still fond of his high-end DSLR cameras, most of us rely on smartphone photos and videos to capture our memorable events and duckface selfies.
And there is plenty of room for improvement. Most smartphones use a stacked system of lenses, which adds both weight and bulk, and ruins a phone’s sleek design on its backside.
Startup Metalenz says its nanostructures do a better job of guiding light to image sensors than curved plastic lenses.
It’s been a good decade or so for the makers of plastic lenses. In recent years, smartphone manufactures have been adding camera modules, going from one to two to five or more. And each of those camera modules contains several plastic lenses. Over the years, these lenses have changed little, though image processing software has improved a lot, merging images from multiple camera modules into one high quality picture and enabling selective focus and other features.
The glory days of the plastic camera lens, however, may be drawing to a close. At least that’s the hope of Metalenz, a Boston-area startup that officially took its wraps off today.
The optics in your smartphone have been pretty much the same for more than a decade. That’s about to change.
The camera on the first iPhone way back in 2007 was a mere 2 megapixels. And it only had a rear camera; there wasn’t even a front-facing selfie shooter. Today, you’ll find multiple cameras on the front and back of phones — some of them with sensors as large as 108 megapixels, like the biggest camera on Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra.
But while the sensor size and megapixel counts of smartphone cameras have increased considerably in the past decade — not to mention improvements in computational photography software — the lenses that help capture photos remain fundamentally unchanged.
A new company called Metalenz, which emerges from stealth mode today, is looking to disrupt smartphone cameras with a single, flat lens system that utilizes a technology called optical metasurfaces. A camera built around this new lens tech can produce an image of the same if not better quality as traditional lenses, collect more light for brighter photos, and can even enable new forms of sensing in phones, all while taking up less space.