Metalenz, a meta-optics lens technology startup, has unveiled a new polarization technology that it said will enable polarization sensing to be integrated into consumer and mobile devices and lead to better healthcare management features on smartphones.
The company’s new PolarEyes technology enables advanced polarization sensing in a small form factor that can then be integrated into mobile phones, to offer new sensing features that assist with managing healthcare on the smartphone. In an interview, Robert Devlin, co-founder and CEO of Metalenz, told us, “This is a new way of enabling polarization sensing in phones. Conventional polarization optics can cost hundreds of dollars, we’re now able to shrink it significantly and add it at low cost on semiconductor processes.”
He said that in healthcare, polarization sensing can provide more details about, for example, cancerous skin cells. It is not just limited to cellphones though. Devlin said the form factor and size means it can also be integrated into a laptop camera bezel, or in augmented reality glasses. It can be used in environmental sensors for monitoring pollutants, as well as in automotive sensing. “Our technology acts as a second set of eyes in very vulnerable situations, some that are consequential to our health. This could be a virtual visit to the dermatologist or detecting poor air quality in a room that appears spotless to the human eye. Advanced optics capabilities are crucial to understanding our surroundings but typically reserved for science-grade labs. With PolarEyes, we are putting this power into people’s pockets for the first time, transforming the way they see and interact with the world.”
The premise behind PolarEyes is that with consumers increasingly reliant on camera-equipped devices and telehealth usage increasing 38X from pre-Covid baseline, the technology needs to be able to safely access and deliver healthcare to patients and providers. But as the demands on hardware increases, lenses have lagged behind, and that’s where Metalenz PolarEyes comes in: it collects the polarized light information traditional cameras discard and parses through that information to better interpret the world around us.
Built on foundational research from the Capasso Lab at Harvard University, Metalenz’s lenses enable advanced optical sensing to improve privacy features, alert drivers to safety hazards on the road, and make at-home healthcare more accessible, the company said. The full-stack, system-level solution combines physics and optics, software and hardware, which means it can be used in applications such as smartphones as well as automotive applications.
The company came out of stealth mode a year ago when it announced details of its first product for 3D sensing, replacing plastic lenses with waveguides built from silicon nanostructures made in the same foundries that produce microelectronics and CMOS image sensors, using standard semiconductor processes. Its technology exploits the interactions of light and matter at the nanometer scale to achieve what it said is “unprecedented” control of the behavior of light. While conventional optics refract, reflect, and polarize light as it passes through the bulk of a material, Metalenz uses minuscule patterns and structures at the surface to redirect light at will.
Devlin said PolarEyes uses the same processes as its previously announced 3D sensing product, hence leveraging the same semiconductor scale. It helps unveil information and unlocks features which the company said was never-before-available at a mobile form factor and price point. These features include:
- Spoof-proof facial authentication:provides correct identification of users versusfacial-spoofing masks and photos to safeguard consumer devices against fraudsters.
- Enhanced 3D sensing:provides more details to detect shapes and edges with increased contrast; improving virtual backgrounds’ quality and 3D object scanning resolution in AR/VR environments.
- Material classification: identifies molecular makeup of objects, giving automakers the ability to alert drivers to road hazards like black ice, and doctors the potential to diagnose skin cancer from a smartphone.
- Anti-glare vision: works around glare, the reflective light which often overpowers vision and machine vision, enabling robots to better maneuver and automobiles the ability to monitor for distracted driving.
Metalenz said it is already engaged with a number of the world’s largest manufacturers including a recent foundry partnership with STMicroelectronics, and it has the partners and supply chain logistics to meet the scale of OEMs across consumer and automotive industries. The company’s simplified manufacturing process consolidates the optics and sensor supply chain (producing both at one facility), resulting in meta-optic lenses that are more cost efficient and compact than conventional lenses to meet the rapid increase in cameras and sensing devices.
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