Researchers from Harvard University were able to develop a new kind of camera technology that might pave the way for less bulkier implementations, like, say, less unwieldy virtual or augmented reality headsets.

The flat metalens can focus "all the colors of the rainbow," the researchers said. It's a far cry from existing camera lenses, which are not only curved, but also take up more space and are bulkier.

However, there's a slight problem: the lens was successful in focusing light, but only on a tremendously small nanoparticle scale. Though metalens sounds incredibly promising, it could take a long time before major tech firms such as Apple, Google, or Samsung can apply it to its respective smartphones — and by then mobile cameras may have already advanced to a point where metalens is largely pointless.

Metalens May Lead To Less Bulkier Cameras

Still, the research, published Jan. 1 in the Nature Nanotechnology journal, explores the possibility of the lens being incorporated into modern hardware, allowing VR or AR headsets to accommodate larger lenses that take up less space.

Some forms of light contain wavelengths that are shorter or longer than others. To capture all these colors simultaneously, conventional camera lenses are curved so it can focus on all incoming light to compose an image. This has been the standard for more than a hundred years, but these lenses takes up a lot of space. But a flat lens will be able to capture all colors without occupying the same space as a curved lens does.

Furthermore, metalenses are better than existing ones.

"Metalenses are thin, easy to fabricate, and cost-effective," said Federico Capasso, a Harvard physicist and the study's senior author. "This breakthrough extends those advantages across the whole visible range of light. This is the next big step."

When Will This Technology Be Commercially Available?

Harvard has already licensed the technology to a startup company, with the hope of commercial development. As for the researchers, they intend to get back to work and figure out how to make the metalens take in light on a much larger scale. But as mentioned, it's not certain when this type of technology will make its way to consumer devices such as cameras, smartphones, and perhaps even DSLRs. It's one step in the right direction, though.

Thoughts about metalens? Do you think it's the next big thing in camera technology? As always, feel free to sound off in the comments section below!

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