Smartphone Cameras Might Soon Capture Polarization Data


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. 

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