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Scope

Electrically tunable lenses enabling lossless zoom and compact cameras with higher image quality and lower costs for smartphones, AR/VR, LiDAR scanning, machine vision, microscopes, and beyond.

What it does

Most camera lenses use physical movement to zoom without image quality loss - a major problem for compact camera and lens applications. We’re building lenses capable of changing their optical power and behaviour with no movement, just applied voltages.


Your inspiration

After speaking with 100+ industry leaders, we realized that the inability of regular lenses to zoom causes endless problems in applications across several industries. Their optical behaviour cannot be adjusted without physical movement; a stunningly archaic limitation for the twenty-first century. For instance, this limitation results in lossy photography (when you pinch to zoom while taking a picture, the image immediately becomes grainy & pixelated) which results in every new iPhone having more cameras than the last, in an attempt to mask this pixelation. As optical engineers and amateur photographers, we think this is unacceptable.


How it works

Instead of curved glass or plastic, our lenses are made of liquid crystals confined in a cell. Liquid crystals are small molecules that reorient under an electric or magnetic field, modulating their refractive index. Thus with just applied voltages, we can dynamically shape the lens’ optical wavefront and behaviour without physical movement. Our lenses are built to maximize our control over the liquid crystals using specific materials, electrode designs, and more. Our optical design incorporates these lenses to create a highly tunable, losslessly zooming system. It also removes the need for polarizers or motors, creating an extremely compact system comparable to modern smartphone cameras in size (except with one necessary aperture instead of three to five).


Design process

Our lens is the product of over a year of R&D, with support from some of the world’s leading experts in optics. Before prototyping, we needed to simulate our lenses. However, there was no existing software to do this; we had to build our own Multiphysics module from scratch and pair it with MATLAB and COMSOL to conduct these simulations and optimize our lens design. We then used Zemax to create high performance optical systems that take advantage of our lens’ unique capabilities. This ‘pipeline’ enabled very fast design and optimization. Once we had validated our preliminary designs, we built our first prototypes. While this involved spending countless long hours in the lab, the result was well worth it; we built a lens that could focus and defocus the light from a laser, without any moving parts, and a power requirement in the microwatts. Throughout this process, we prioritized designing with our users in mind. These are the OEMs integrating our lens into their devices; this meant making sure that the manufacturing process of our lens was compatible with existing supply chains for smartphone cameras. One interesting consequence is that our lenses have the potential to be more easily mass produced than regular glass or plastic lenses.


How it is different

Previous attempts at tunable lenses use moving or deforming parts, or electrowetting. This is bad design; it solves the problem, but lacks the durability & form factor needed for a camera. These lenses also don’t have the ability to fix higher order aberrations, causing blurry images. There have also been historical problems with LC lenses. In the past, LC lenses were very thick & needed high voltages to work (and even then, would not be very tunable). They also needed polarizers, to be useful in camera or lens applications. This is a huge impediment, as it means that 50% of all the incoming light is lost. This makes applications like low light photography or high sensitivity imaging impossible. Our lens designs address and solve ALL of these issues. One of our lenses can replace 3 of the current multi-aperture ones in smartphones. The saved space can be used for larger batteries or processors, thus allowing new technology like 5G, AR, or flexible displays.


Future plans

We truly believe in the potential of great design and of what we’ve built. As such, we’ve founded Scope Photonics. In the next six months, we’re building a high quality prototype that can offer lossless zoom, while being 50% smaller and 15% cheaper than anything on the market. It will still allow for higher battery life, increased space inside the smartphone, and many new features. We will be demoing this to major smartphone manufacturers, upon patenting. Long term, we envision our lenses being a paradigm shift in many other industries. With that in mind, we’ve secured multiple Letters of Intent for such applications.


Awards

Palihapitiya Venture Creation Fund $50k | Quantum Valley Investments’ Problem Pitch $15k | Norman Esch $10K | Concept by Velocity $5K | Two-time Engineer of the Future Awards | ANSYS Design Award | 1st Place - Nanotechnology Engineering Capstone Symposium at University of Waterloo


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