Metalenz is not yet naming a partner, though the company has engaged with a number of Tier 1 OEMs, Devlin said. He expects to begin shipping the lenses at the end of 2021, which are expected to be released in the commercial market by the first quarter of 2022.
The technology, which manipulates light at the nanometer scale through wafer-thin metasurfaces, was introduced in Capasso’s group in 2011. Early demonstrations from Capasso and his then-student Nanfang Yu, now a professor of applied physics at Columbia University, showed an unseen level of control over light with just a single layer of nanoscale antennas. Ten years ago, the results were promising, though inefficient and unable to form high-quality images.
In 2016, during Devlin’s time in Capasso’s lab pursuing his Ph.D., the group advanced the technology by implementing nanofabrication methods that improved efficiency to the point where they could be used in practical applications, and be developed in methods similar to integrated circuits.
“These high-quality images and the development of standard semiconductor fabrications techniques to fabricate the meta-optics pushed the technology to a level of maturity suitable for mass markets,” Devlin said.
Metalenz was founded shortly after that advancement.
“It has been rewarding to see Metalenz successfully emerge as a startup following a decade of research in my group that has ranged from generalizing the centuries-old Snell’s law of refractive optics, to the realization of flat lenses that outperform conventional ones,” said Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). Capasso also is a co-founder of Metalenz and a board member of the company.
The technology, Devlin said, is able to provide an entirely new tool for designing compact and complex optical systems by providing functionality that can’t be achieved with conventional lenses. “However, they also come with their own set of challenges,” Devlin said.
One of those challenges involves stray light that the metalenses introduce. This light is not found in ordinary refractives, and, if not addressed through careful design and process controls, the performance of certain sensing modules can suffer. The company, Devlin said, was able to develop a set of tools tailored to meet those issues without compromising the benefits of the technology. Namely, Devlin and Capasso see implementation potential for the meta-optics in applications ranging from those in the health care and automotive industries, to consumer electronics.
“The metalens platform has the potential to drive a revolution in imaging and sensing, from the ubiquitous cameras in cellphones, cars, and self-driving vehicles to AR/VR, and in the future to widespread use in drones and CubeSats,” Capasso said.
Where cellphone camera technology, for instance, has been largely unchanged in terms of optics, algorithmic and sensor advancements have increased image quality. Metalens technology is poised to deliver an all-optical solution to issues resulting in inferior image quality.
“Our technology and process combines different types of optics into one single layer, allowing you to achieve more control with a single lens than conventional optics, which would require three or four lenses to achieve the same result,” Devlin said. “Ultimately, we’re excited for Metalenz to bring entirely new forms of sensing to a mobile form factor and price point.”