PARIS Production of variable focus liquid lenses for zoom-enable camera phones is ramping up in Creative Sensor’s manufacturing site in Wuxi, China, according to Varioptic SA.
Varioptic (Lyon, France), a developer of the liquid lens, agreed a production deal with Creative Sensor (Wuxi, China) in August 2006. Manufacturing capacity is now set to ramp from 100,000 liquid lenses per month at the end of 2006 to 1 million units per month by the end of 2007, according to John Barber, vice president of business development at Varioptic.
Eliminating the need for moving parts in zoom and autofocus systems, liquid lenses are making their way towards inclusion in mobile camera phones; but still need a reduction in size and price. Varioptic’s new variable focus lenses are 7.75 millimeters in diameter. The unit price is 1.5 euros (about $2) for volume quantities, with a 1 euro per unit target by the end of year 2007, said Barber.
Several liquid lenses technologies are competing on the market: a patent battle broke out between Philips and Varioptic in 2004 (see March 17, 2004 story), about the so-called electrowetting approach, and yet another technology emerged in 2005 from the IMRE Institute in Singapore.
However, "Varioptic is first with product introduction and manufacturing," said Barber, adding that "only the two-liquid approach can truly eliminate the need for mobile parts." In this case, lens adaptation is performed by applying tiny voltages that change the shape of the liquid-liquid interface.
Production quantities in Wuxi include Varioptic’s new 7.75-mm lenses, aimed at camera phones, as well as previously introduced 10.5-mm devices, for use in webcams, barcode readers and medical equipment. Creative Sensor has built a production line for the liquid lenses with support from Varioptic. Founded in 2003, the French start-up now employs 60 people.
Varoptic signed an agreement with Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co. Ltd. in 2004 to allow integrate of Varioptic’s liquid lenses in camera modules, with the hope that this could lead to volume production. Varioptic signed with Avago Technologies in October allowing both companies to market a camera based on Avago’s 2MP image sensor and liquid lenses from Varoptic.