This tiny piece of tech is the LensVector Autofocus mechanism, which is billed as the smallest autofocus lens unit in the world. It works not by mechanically moving the lens back and forth, but by electronically flexing an otherwise stationary lens, which is what keeps it tiny.
The developers hope that its small size, robust design and very low power consumption – it uses half the power of current mechanical systems – will encourage mobile phone makers to incorporate it into their next generation camera phone products. The thing can focus from 10 cm to infinity, which could improve the quality of our photos significantly. Very clever. [Thanks Matthew]
Rather than physically moving a lens element like traditional mechanical solutions, LensVector applies a small control voltage to dynamically change the refractive index of the material the light passes through. LensVector carefully controls the rotation of the molecules in the LC cell to achieve this change in refractive index. Because the resulting solid-state autofocus element has no motor or moving parts, it is more rugged and reliable than mechanical alternatives.