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Could Caltech's 'lensless camera' mean flatter phones?

Researchers at Caltech say that they're developing a single-layer "lensless camera" that can switch from a fisheye to a telephoto lens instantly.

Today's phones are so thin that the camera lens often can't help but bulge out a little bit. Researchers at Caltech might have the solution, though. It's a single-layer "lensless camera" capable of mimicking a traditional lens and sensor design.

Potentially, that could mean thinner, flatter phones with no protruding camera lens could be on the way.

"We've created a single thin layer of integrated silicon photonics that emulates the lens and sensor of a digital camera," explains Ali Hajimiri, Caltech professor of electrical engineering and medical engineering. "It can mimic a regular lens, but can switch from a fish-eye to a telephoto lens instantaneously."

Behrooz Abiri, a co-author of the project report, claims that the findings could one day render today's mobile camera lenses obsolete, and points out that camera designs are one of the last things preventing phones from getting thinner than they already are. Another Caltech researcher adds that the study could have significant implications for astronomy, including ultra-thin, ultra-light telescopes for use on the ground or in space.

It's still very early, but the team's next goal is to scale the project up and improve the resolution of their ultra-thin camera. We'll keep an eye on it and let you know of any further developments.