Flat, focus-free camera lens could one day come to smartphones

13 Mar 2020

The newly developed flat lens. Image: Rajesh Menon/ University of Utah

This week in future tech, researchers have developed a new single lens that doesn’t need to focus, which could possibly be used in smartphones.

One of the biggest features of the latest smartphones is their array of cameras, but researchers at the University of Utah have developed technology that could radically alter how they function.

In a paper published to Optica, the researchers revealed a single lens just 1,000th of an inch thick that requires no focusing. Conventional cameras, whether used in smartphones or for microscopy, require focusing to ensure that the details of an object are sharp.

If there are multiple objects at different distances from the camera, each object must be focused separately.

“The new lens eliminates the need for focusing and allows any camera to keep all the objects in focus simultaneously,” said researcher Rajesh Menon.

“Conventional cameras also use multiple lenses to keep different colours of light in focus simultaneously. Since our design is very general, we can also use it to create a single flat lens that focuses all colours of light, drastically simplifying cameras even further.”

25 fast-charging cycles is enough to ruin an EV battery

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside have published a study claiming that just a couple dozen cycles in a fast-charging station can ruin an electric vehicle (EV) battery.

Using the same lithium-ion batteries found in Tesla cars, the researchers charged batteries as per a standard fast charge, while also charging a set using a new fast-charging algorithm based on the battery’s internal resistance, which interferes with the flow of electrons.

For the first 13 charging cycles, the battery storage capacities for both charging techniques remained similar. After that, however, the industry fast-charging technique caused capacity to fade much faster.

After 40 charging cycles, these batteries kept only 60pc of their storage capacity, however, batteries charged using the internal resistance charging method retained more than 80pc capacity after the 40th cycle

“Industrial fast-charging affects the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries adversely because of the increase in the internal resistance of the batteries, which in turn results in heat generation,” said doctoral student and study co-author Tanner Zerrin.

Microsoft teams up with Enable Ireland for AI assistive tech

Microsoft and Enable Ireland have announced a joint venture to embed AI into a platform called ‘Assistive Technology Passport’. Its aim is to help people with disabilities to have an independent life using technology.

Microsoft and Enable Ireland said they will be working with Maynooth University to implement AI into assistive technology.

According to the pair, the AT Passport is a personal record of all of the relevant information about an individual’s requirement for assistive technology, including the necessary referrals, eligibility and training requirements.

“Technology is able to provide truly life-changing assistance to people with disabilities by enabling them to live and achieve independence,” said John O’Sullivan, CEO of Enable Ireland.

“Research has shown that the provision of assistive technology services is sometimes disjointed, unclear and not designed around the end user. By developing an AT Passport, we believe it will be less ambiguous for users to access the support and training they require.”

Chatbots to facilitate $142bn in retail spend by 2024

A new report from Juniper Research has estimated that retail spend facilitated by chatbots will reach $142bn by 2024, rising from $2.8bn in 2019. This would represent annual growth of 400pc over the next four years.

Advances in natural language understanding (NLU) among chatbots will drive their effectiveness, with expectations that 50pc of all chatbot interactions will result in a purchase by 2024.

The report also found that 80pc of consumers will likely use chatbots to buy goods by this time, embedded directly through a retailer’s mobile app rather than through a browser or third-party app.

Asia will dominate the use of retail chatbots, accounting for 70pc of all transactions by 2024, the report said.

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic