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3G Congress: Varioptic to demo liquid lens with zoom

Feb 09, 20063 mins

French manufacturer Varioptic SA is expected to use the 3GSM World Congress next week to show a liquid lens that is capable of zooming.

“After showing a proof of concept at the Cebit trade show last year, we will demonstrate a beta version of the new lens technology next week,” said Varioptic spokeswoman Isabelle Jourdain. “We plan to have the product ready by the end of the year.”

The company hopes to be among the first to offer a liquid lens with zoom capability to handset manufacturers, she said.

Liquid lens technology, which is capable of creating sharp pictures in ways similar to the human eye, offers several advantages such as size, cost, speed and durability over traditional lens used even in today’s high-end digital cameras, according to Jourdain.

Unlike a conventional lens that requires mechanical moving parts, a liquid lens manipulates oil and water in a tiny transparent tube with a small electric current. When the sides of the tube are charged with the electric current, one of the two fluids is drawn to the edges and the other fills up the remaining space in the tube. The place where the two fluids meet functions like a lens. By changing the current, the fluid lens can be shaped hollow, convex or anything in between, allowing it to focus on objects that are far away or within centimeters.

At the end of last month, Varioptic announced the availability of what it claims to be the industry’s first 2-megapixel, autofocus liquid lens for camera phones. The Artic 320 lens is an improvement over the company’s initial product, expanding the temperature range in Celsius to minus 40 degrees and plus 85 degrees when the phone is not in use, and minus 20 degrees and plus 60 degrees when used, Jourdain says.

“Temperature is an issue with liquid lens technology, because it uses water and oil,” she said.

Varioptic’s “electrowetting” technology is the result of more than 12 years of research by the company’s founder, Bruno Berge, a former research scientist at the French National Center for Scientific Research. Berge filed two patents for his electrowetting technology, in 1997 and 1999.

Two years ago, Varioptic accused Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV of infringing on these patents to develop its own liquid lens technology.

“We had a dispute, but it stopped,” Jourdain said. “I can’t say whether or not Philips is still working on liquid lens technology.”

During the dispute, Philips had argued that its variable-focus lens wasn’t based on electrowetting technology.