The constant battle between companies trying to shove the most megapixels
into the smallest frame
at all costs just might have some serious competition on the horizon, as researchers at UC San Diego have built an ultrathin, high resolution digicam by simply "folding up the telephoto lens." The aptly-named Origami lens hopes to "yield lightweight, slim, and powerful miniature cameras for unmanned surveillance aircraft
, cellphones, and infrared night vision applications," and was constructed using the same basic principles found on the Cassegrain telescope that was crafted in 1672. On a disk of calcium fluoride, the engineers "cut a series of concentric, reflective surfaces that bend and focus the light as it is bounced to a facing flat reflector," creating an area where incoming light will follow a zigzag path until it reaches the CMOS light sensor. The biggest drawback, however, is the new camera's "limited depth of focus," but the folks behind the creation are already designing variable-focus folded optical systems to hopefully cure that nagging issue. Ideally, the team would like to see their work bring high resolution, respectful imagers to cellphones
, doing away with the relatively antiquated sensors on most mainstream mobiles, but even under the best conditions it's probably a few years away.