“Our flat lenses can drastically reduce the weight, complexity and cost of cameras and other imaging systems, while increasing their functionality,” said Dr. Rajesh Menon, a scientist at the University of Utah.

“Such optics could enable thinner smartphone cameras, improved and smaller cameras for biomedical imaging such as endoscopy, and more compact cameras for automobiles.”

The team’s flat lenses can maintain focus for objects that are about 6 m (20 feet) apart from each other.

They use nanostructures patterned on a flat surface rather than bulky glass or plastic to achieve the important optical properties that control the way light travels.

“This new lens could have many interesting applications outside photography such as creating highly efficient illumination for LIDAR that is critical for many autonomous systems, including self-driving cars,” Dr. Menon said.

“The design approach we used could be expanded to create optical components with any number of properties such as extreme bandwidth, easier manufacturability or lower cost.”

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