STMicro and Metalenz join hands for the nano-structure lens tech

Date: 20/06/2021
To further strengthen its position in the market of ToF proximity and distance sensors, STMicroelectronics is joining hands with a new company called Metalenz to develop manufacturing processes for Metalenzís meta-optics technology for next-generation smartphones, consumer devices, healthcare, and automotive applications. Metalenz has developed a breakthrough technology called multifunctional meta-surface optics enabling new forms of sensing for the next generation of smartphones and other consumer devices, as well as healthcare and automotive applications. For example a camera built around this new flat-lens technology can collect more light for brighter images and produce images of the same or better quality than traditional refractive lenses while consuming less power and taking up less space.

The lenses built using this technology will feature nanostructures one-thousandth the width of a human hair. These nanostructures appropriately bend light rays to realize in a single layer the same functionality as a complex multi-element refractive lens system.

ST said it will integrate Metalenzís meta-surface optics technology into STís existing diffractive optics manufacturing process at its 300mm wafer fab in Crolles, France, leveraging STís position at the forefront of the fast-growing Near-Infrared (NIR) optical sensing market. Today ST leads the market for time-of-flight (ToF) proximity and distance sensors with over 1 billion devices shipped to customers.

Eric Aussedat, Executive Vice President & General Manager of STís Imaging Division, said, ďWith its advantages in power, efficiency, and performance, multifunctional optics technology can be a game changer for the next generation of optical sensors used in smartphones and other consumer devices, as well as healthcare and automotive applications. In combining Metalenzís advances with our proprietary technology, manufactured in our state-of-the-art 300mm production facility in Crolles, this partnership will support STís continued offering of the most innovative and advanced optical-sensing solutions to its customers.Ē

ďWe are thrilled to be working with an industry leader like ST. The technology developed by Metalenz is a perfect complement to STís advanced capabilities and market position,Ē said Dr. Rob Devlin, CEO and co-founder of Metalenz. ďWe adopted a fabless business model so that we can focus on the innovation and design of revolutionary optics to transform sensing from smartphones to automobiles. Working with ST enables us to expand our product offering while leveraging STís high-volume fabrication capability and enables STís already differentiated product lines to reach new heights with Metalenz inside.Ē

ST said the technology developed by Metalenz is a perfect complement to STís advanced capabilities. Combining semiconductor manufacturing and optics, ST said it will use advanced lithographic masks to build tunable diffractive-wavefront layers on a meta-surface in a semiconductor wafer fab. Like silicon Ics, the flat meta-surface lenses are processed in a semiconductor clean room using the same manufacturing technology.

This technology is initially targeted at the fast-growing NIR market. NIR wavelengths are used in all the 3D sensing functions, such as face identification, autofocus assist, mini-LIDAR, and AR/VR depth mapping, that are becoming standard in todayís smartphone. Given the benefits, optical lenses made in a semiconductor wafer fab could someday be as common as traditional refractive lenses.

Author: Srinivasa Reddy N
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