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Metalenz develops “polarisation” imaging lens for smartphones

Metalenz, a manufacturer of meta-optic technology, has announced PolarEyes, a new polarisation system that may revolutionise the smartphone camera as we know it.

In 2021, Metalenz introduced a flat-sens system for mobile devices known as optical metasurfaces. This system took up less space on a mobile device, while apparently producing high-standard results. Mobile cameras are designed with multiple lenses which are placed on top of each other. However, Metalenz’s system uses a single lens made up of “nanostructures”. These structures bend light rays and send them to the camera sensor. This technology is expected to be released on products later in 2022.

“PolarEyes” to detect the direction of light

The company recently made another announcement, detailing a new version of this metasurface technology that may come to devices in 2023. PolarEyes uses the same nanostructure technology, however now the structures can interpret polarisation information, which in simple terms is the direction of light.

“When you have light coming into a camera after it’s bounced off of something smooth versus something rough, or after it’s hit an edge or interacted with certain molecules, it will have a very different direction depending on what material, what molecules, what it actually has bounced off of”, Metalenz CEO Rob Devlin told Wired. “With that information, you can get this contrast and understand what things are made up of”.

Polarisation filters are already used in LCD TVs and computer monitors. However, polarisation imaging technology is something that is rarely found in commercial products. Smartphones could use polarisation information to confirm the facial identity of someone wearing a face mask, for example. Other uses for the technology could be to analyse the quality of air in an area, as light that is polluted has a different appearance to clean air.

PolarEyes can interpret polarisation information, which in simple terms is the direction of light. (Photo: Metalenz)
PolarEyes can interpret polarisation information, which in simple terms is the direction of light. (Photo: Metalenz)

How does polarisation imaging technology work?

PolarEyes technology works by using nanostructures that are designed to split light rays into four different images of a single object. Each image has its own polarisation data. Cameras equipped with this lens would be able to receive polarisation data regardless of lighting conditions.

Polarisation technology could even be implemented in self-driving vehicles. This would be useful as polarisation helps gain visibility in tough conditions like rain or fog. The lens could also increase the sight distance for cameras on the car to spot pedestrians or other vehicles.

There are many uses for polarisation technology itself. It has been noted that the technology could be used to tell if a fruit is ripe or not, or whether a human eye has signs of diabetes. The data itself relies on machine-learning algorithms to be processed. “There’s bound to be a set of applications we’re not even thinking of yet that will simply emerge just by getting this in everyone’s pockets”, Devlin told Wired. “Sort of the same way as when the camera went to the cell phone”.

Metalenz polarisation technology could strengthen privacy

Metalenz has stated that its polarisation technology can strengthen privacy in smartphones. It is noted that some facial recognition technology can be thwarted by high-resolution replicas of someone’s face. Then there is the aforementioned issue of unlocking a device while wearing a face mask.

CEO Rob Devlin recently held a demonstration which showed him bypassing a facial recognition algorithm by using a printout of his own face. The same algorithm refused him access after putting on a medical face mask.

When using the PolarEyes device, the opposite occurred. The printout was not able to bypass the technology, while Devlin’s masked face was granted access to the device.

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