Philips's new FluidFocus lens system is unlike other lenses; in fact, the technology is more similar to the human body than to lens technology. FluidFocus works by mimicking the human eye using a fluid lens that alters its focal length by changing its shape.

The lens, which has no mechanical moving parts, works when an electric field is applied to a tube that's filled with two fluids, one aqueous and one oily. The sides of the tube are lined with a water-repellent coating that forces the oily fluid to the edges while the aqueous fluid remains at the opposite end of the tube, acting as a lens. When the tube is charged, the surface-tension within the tube changes, and the aqueous fluid moves to the sides of the tube, changing the focal length of the lens.

At 3mm in diameter and 2.2mm in length, the lens is suited for use in optical imaging applications such as camera phones, digital cameras, and home security systems. In addition to being incredibly small, the lens is fast—it can switch through its full focal range in less than 10ms. Plus, according to the folks at Philips—who have tested the lens with over 1 million focusing operations—the FluidFocus system has the potential to be shock resistant and capable of functioning in a range of temperatures. Are the days of shotty fixed-focus imaging systems behind us?

Philips will display FluidFocus at CeBIT 2004 in Hannover, Germany March 18-24. This technology is the first of its kind, and yes, according to a Reuters report, it has been patented.