Autofocus could appear in Apple and Nokia phones

The developers of the world’s smallest autofocus lens for mobile devices say Apple and Nokia are considering introducing it.

The built-in cameras on most phones lack autofocus – and, while the small aperture gives an acceptable depth of focus, it doesn’t admit much light. This is why most phones are pretty lousy at indoor photography.

Sharp focus is normally achieved by moving lenses – but this requires energy. A team of SINTEF research scientists at MiNaLab in Oslo decided a better solution would be to change the curvature of the lens itself, just like the lens of the human eye.

“The idea of creating an autofocus lens using the principles found in nature got us thinking at the time,” says research scientist Dag Vang.

“The result was a sketch of an optical ‘sandwich’ consisting of extremely thin glass plates, a polymer, a gel material and a metal alloy with flexible properties – all at very small scale.”

They made a ring of material equivalent to the muscles around the eye, which needed almost no energy to contract and expand. In the middle was a gel-based lens.

The team’s found an industrial partner, Norwegian company PoLight, and says it’s demonstrated the new camera lens, integrated into a mobile phone camera. Companies including Apple and Nokia are showing interest, PoLight says.

“We are now in discussions with several of the major mobile phone manufacturers and subcontractors, and I hope we will have a contract by the end of this year,” says managing director Jon Ulvenson.