There could be a significant shift in how 3D scanners work in the near future.
I’m learning about a new technology being developed called “flat lenses”. These are utterly different from traditional optical lenses.
Normal lenses use the fact that light travels slightly slower in glass, and thus by organizing the thickness and curvature of a glass lens, one can control the path of light waves. These optical principles are used in lenses everywhere for countless purposes.
However, there’s one problem with that approach: the properties of glass and concept require thick, heavy lenses for many applications. This is becoming an issue in smartphones, where the lenses must be very small, and this means there is less progress on those cameras than we’d want.
The new technology of flat lenses changes this entirely.
The concept, as I understand it, is to allow light to pass through a very thin — and flat — surface that’s specially designed. The surface is covered with microscopic, but tall structures. These are extremely tiny, in the nanometer range close to the frequency of light itself.
That size allows for interactions with the light waves as they pass by, and the light can be altered. By specifically designing the structure of the flat lens, you can make it do the same things an optical lens can do. Except that it’s flat and takes up very little space and weight.
One company developing this technology is metalenz, which has already produced these special flat lenses. Here’s a short video showing how they do it:
One of the most interesting aspects of the technology is the ability to do things normal lenses cannot do. For example, certain frequencies could be boosted or reduced. This effectively makes the flat lens both a lens and a filter at the same time. The possibilities for these are endless, particularly when you realize more than one flat lens could be used in an application.
My thought is that while these lenses will certainly be used in smartphones, professional cameras, spacecraft, telescopes, projectors and many more applications, they will also be used in 3D scanners.
Possible 3D scanning implications, should specialized flat lenses be integrated into 3D scanning tech:
- Elimination of the “too bright to scan” or “too dark to scan” problems
- Very lightweight portable 3D scanners
- Smartphone 3D scanners of great capability and widespread use
- Vastly improved infrared depth scanning tools
There’s probably more, but that’s just a start. It may be that before too long, those optical lenses we’ve long used will begin to look antiquated.