Engineers at University of California, San Diego, have built a powerful yet ultra-thin digital camera by folding up the telephoto lens in a manner reminiscent of origami paper folding.

Engineers at University of California, San Diego, have built a powerful yet ultra-thin digital camera by folding up the telephoto lens in a manner reminiscent of origami paper folding.

The team is led by Eric Tremblay, an electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. candidate at UCSD?s Jacobs School of Engineering, and overseen by professor of electrical and computer engineering Joseph Ford. They feel that the technology may result in lightweight, ultra-thin, high-resolution miniature cameras for unmanned surveillance aircraft, infrared night vision application and cell phones.

?Our imager is about seven times more powerful than a conventional lens of the same depth? said Tremblay.

?This type of miniature camera is very promising for application where you want high resolution images and a short exposure time. This describes what cell phone cameras want to be when they grow up? adds Ford

The ?folded? optical system is borrowed from conventional astronomical telescopes, such as the Cassegrain telescope developed in 1672. It employs the use of mirrors to reduce camera thickness yet retain good light collection and high-resolution capabilities.

Instead of bending and focusing light as it passes through a series of separate mirrors and lenses, the new folded system bends and focus?s light while it is reflected back and forth inside a single 5mm thick optical crystal. The light is focused as if it were moving through a traditional lens system that is at least seven times thicker.

When asked about the likelihood of folded optics making their way into mobile phone cameras, Tremblay said, ?I don?t know, but I?m hopeful. I think it?s a good possibility?.

The sensor has already become smaller since the model described in Tremblay?s Applied Optics paper in which it was first described. ?It?s going to keep shrinking? Tremblay added.

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