3D printing news: Researchers develop tiny lens that mimics the human eye

The technology could be adapted for use in drones and driverless cars

A team of researchers working on new camera technology has successfully created a microscopic 3D lens sensor that functions in a similar way to the human eye, according to the New Scientist.

The miniature camera, which is made up of four lenses of varying focal lengths, is able to mimic natural vision by providing ultra-sharp focus in a central area with a more sensitive, but less focused, peripheral field of view.

The hope is that lenses of this kind can be adapted for use in surveillance drones and driverless cars, to focus on a specific point of an image without losing sense of what is going on in the periphery.

First reported in New Scientist, the technology mimics the fovea within our own eyes, which has a much higher concentration of light-sensitive cells than the areas around it. This results in the central and peripheral views we are used to, but that traditional camera lenses are not designed for.

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Harald Giessen, and his team at the University of Stuttgart, used 3D printing to create the lenses that measure just 300 square micrometers, or the width of three human hairs.

"There is no chance you can manufacture imaging systems of this quality by any other means," said Giessen, speaking to New Scientist.

Because only the centre of the image needs intense processing, cameras making use of these lenses would require less power and processing time than current technology.

The next step would be to create lenses made of different materials to balance out issues with colour and image distortion, but due to the minute scale, the researchers admit that current 3D printing technology is not quite there yet.

3D printing at a glance

3D printing is the 'additive' manufacturing process of converting digital blueprints into physical objects. Printing in 3D happens in much the same way as traditional printing - instead of a text file, a digital schematic is used to map out a physical object, which is then built up layer-by-layer using a variety of materials acting as toner.

This article collates all the latest news from the world of 3D printing, but headherefor our run down on how 3D printing works and where it is being used.

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