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October 17, 2019

Flat-Lensing

A whole new type of lens could mean slimmer phones, longer-flying drones -- even benefits for soldiers.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

A leaner lens.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

The latest smattering of new smartphones features better-than-ever images but until there's a lens technology breakthrough, those chunky orbs will continue to jut out as (Sound effect: psycho-type music) the dreaded 'camera bump.'

Engineers at the University of Utah just broke through. (Sound effect: small shatter) They've created a new kind of lens 20 times thinner than a human hair, a hundred times lighter and a thousand times thinner than the lens you just did a duck face into. (Sound effect: duck call) It does everything regular lenses do plus thermal imaging for seeing in the dark.

A regular curvy lens bends light to focus it, before it hits the sensor to get digitized. The new thin lens has microstructures built in, each bending the light in the right direction. Result: a dramatically thinner profile, in a design that makes 'em from lightweight plastic at reduced cost.

Don't really need thermal imaging on my smartphone might be fun, sure, but rescue crews and law enforcement equipment will be totally better with the new lens technology. (Sound effect: light battle sounds) Streamlined military night vision equipment, and (Sound effect: drone sound) lighter, longer-flying drones for night missions, search and rescue, and mapping forest fires.

Plus for all you design freaks -- new smartphones could finally dump the 'bump.'

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