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These materials can make science fiction a reality

This article is part of our new series, Currents:, which explores how rapid advances in technology are transforming our lives.

Imagine moving your hands in the air while working on a computer, as Tony Stark does in Iron Man. Or using a smartphone to magnify an object, such as the device used by Harrison Ford’s character in “Blade Runner.” Or next-generation video conferencing with augmented reality glasses to watch 3-D avatars. Or a generation of autonomous vehicles capable of driving safely in the city.

These advances մի A number of other possibilities on the horizon can occur due to metallurgy, which allows you to control light rays as easily as computer chips control electricity.

The term metamaterials refers to a wide range of manufacturing materials consisting of structures that are better than the wavelength of visible light, radio waves, and other types of electromagnetic radiation. Together, they now give engineers extraordinary control over the design of new types of ultrasonic sensors, ranging from telescope lenses to infrared thermometers.

“We’re entering a phase of fuel consumption,” said Alan Huang, chief technology officer at Terabit Corporation, a Silicon Valley consulting firm who conducted early research on optical computing during his 12 years at Bell Labs. “It will come out of the cameras, beyond the projectors, it will lead to things we do not expect. It’s really a dream come true. “

The first consumer products to benefit from cheap meta products will be smartphones, which will improve their performance, but the ability to control light waves in new ways will soon enable products such as augmented reality glasses that place real-world images in the real system.

The technologies themselves are not new. In the early 19th century, the French physicist Auguste Jean-Jean Fresnel proposed the idea of ​​smoothing and illuminating optical lenses using a series of concentric grooves to focus light. The main novelty behind the metals is that they are made up of sub-components smaller than the wavelength of the radiation type, designed for manipulation.

For example, to make a contact lens, you cut the silicon (which is just glass) thin enough so that it is transparent, and then you can embed structures in a thin layer of glass that concentrate the light as it passes through.

One of the first people to realize the commercial potential of transports was Nathan Mayrhold, a physicist who previously led Microsoft Research.

“When I first started doing it, it was quite controversial,” Mr Mirhold said. “There were scientists who said it was two-story.”

Since then, Mr. Mirhwold has founded half a dozen companies based on material technologies. Some of these companies are pursuing consumer optics markets, including Seattle-based Lumotive, which develops a leaderless imaging system without moving parts.

Lidars uses lasers to create accurate maps of surrounding objects up to hundreds of yards away. Lidars are widely used by companies that develop self-driving cars, և today they are mainly mechanical systems that quickly rotate the laser beam to create a map.

In contrast, Lumotive uses liquid crystal display technology, originally designed for flat panels, to “direct” the laser beam of light. The resulting system is much more expensive than the mechanical leader, which allows them to be considered for a number of new applications, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, self-propelled vehicles, and mobile home robots such as smart vacuum cleaners.

As the automotive industry is filled with many lead manufacturers, Lumotive officials have redistributed their efforts to new markets for home-industrial robots. They have not yet announced the customers.

“We’re moving in a direction where one of the other things we have is the ability to shrink these things a little bit, which makes us unique,” said Bill Coleran, CEO and co-founder of Lumotive.

Another company that is trying to harness the potential of materials is Metalenz, founded in 2017 by Robert Dillin եդ Federico Capasso, now working on a new way of making optical lenses using powerful, inexpensive technologies for making computer chips.

Many metabolic products are produced using the same equipment that makes computer chips. This is significant because it marks a generation of cheap chips that use light, just as computer chips were able to use electricity in the 1960s. This innovation led to a huge new consumer industry. Electronic watches, followed by video games, and then personal computers, all grew out of the ability to drill silicon chains.

With the help of microchip technology, it will be possible to cheaply make tens of thousands or even millions of two-dimensional lenses that will be able to bend light based on examples of transparent materials embedded in their surface for a fraction of the cost of today’s optical lenses.

The question these companies have to answer is whether they can offer a sufficiently improved performance և low price to persuade manufacturers to move away from their current components (in this case, cheap plastic lenses).

The obvious first step in the new technology will be the replacement of plastic lenses found in smartphones, which Metalenz will start doing next year, but this is only the first mass market for the material. According to Mr. Devlin, there will be programs to monitor how we interact with computers and automotive security systems, as well as to improve the ability of low-cost robots to move around in crowded environments.

It is reported that Apple is working on the design of a system that will transfer many functions of smartphones to thin “light” glasses.

“One of the main problems has been the sheer volume and weight,” said Gary Bradski, chief technology officer at OpenCV.ai, a free software developer. “I mean, how much weight can your nose hold?”

Lightness is an advantage offered by Metalenz, which has shown two-dimensional ultrasonic silicon lenses with ultra-transparent structures, each of which is shorter than the wavelength of light. However, making the lens look like an integral circuit offers other potential benefits.

“One of the most influential things you get from metallic materials or interfaces is the ability to really reduce the complexity of the system while improving overall performance,” said Mr Dillin. “So medical or scientific programs that are locked in laboratories because they are really large, bulky, and expensive will now be offered at a discounted price for the egg you can put in each person’s phone.”

One of the earliest possibilities would be to make it possible to place the sensors directly behind the smartphone display, making it possible to use the entire surface of the phone. It will also facilitate “structural lighting” sensors that project dot patterns used to perform face recognition.

The most powerful attribute of microelectronics has been the ability to shrink chains over several decades, making them faster, more powerful, and less expensive. Such alternative materials will revolutionize the way designers create light rays.

For example, scientists completing the millimeter-advanced telescope to be installed at the Simmons Observatory in Chile next year have applied for metallic tiles that will cover the inside of the telescope to capture virtually all of the wandering lights. The photons that fall on the surface of the tiles are trapped by ultrasonic structures on small surfaces, said Mark Dillin, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Pennsylvania (who has nothing to do with the founder of Metalens). telescope

“Tiles are light, cheap, they are easy to install,” he said. “They will not fall.”


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