Imaging optics explained: applications, examples and prototyping

by | Apr 20, 2021 | Optics explained

What are imaging optics?

Imaging optics are optical components that allow humans or machines to use light for vision. Applications of imaging optics include life sciences and machine vision, among others.

Over the past few decades imaging technology has vastly improved. Leading to advancements in both the industrial as well as consumer markets. This resulted in improvements in imaging optics for autonomous systems, logistics, factory automation, life sciences and even particle analysis.

Advancements of imaging optics are visible every day. Just take a look at your smartphone. These products are now easier to produce thanks to vastly improved repeatability and reliability of the required imaging systems.

The history of imaging optics

Ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians were the first to create lenses. The earliest lenses were mostly made from polished crystal and date back from early 2000 BC. There have also been lenses found from Rhodes, which date back to around 700 BC, as do Assyrian lenses (like the Nimrud lens). The word optics comes from the ancient Greek word ὀπτική (optikē), meaning “appearance” or “look”.

The fundamentals of imaging optics

Every imaging system depends on illumination, an imaging lens and a camera of sorts. Lighting is used to illuminate the object, which allows the imaging system to see the object. Next, the imaging lens captures the object information and displays it on a camera sensor. These are the basics of every imaging system.

Applications of imaging optics

Imaging optics are used in many fields, ranging from logistics and supply management to life sciences.

Machine vision

Imaging optics are used for machine vision and factory automation, where sensors and algorithms use the lenses to automate tasks and reduce human oversight. Examples of such tasks are sorting, inspection and detection of defects.

Supply chain management and logistics

Most logistic processes rely on robots for automated warehousing. Machine vision is used to identify products  that need to be shipped or shelved.

Aerospace and Defense

Unmanned vehicles use imaging optics for gathering intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and general situational awareness.

Electronics inspection

In order to manufacture complex circuitry electronics inspection is used, which relies on imaging optics for a closer inspection at a high resolution.

Self-driving cars

Autonomous vehicles rely heavily on imaging optics for situational awareness of the world around them. Common autonomous systems, like farming robots and delivery robotics, use vision systems to acquire information about their surroundings.

Life sciences

This includes fields related to physiology, biology and medicine. Examples of imaging optics in these fields include MRIs, X-ray scans and microscopy.

Examples of imaging optics

  • Target-tracking cameras
  • Facial recognition
  • Thermal imagers
  • Driver-assist cameras (e.g. lane-keep, dynamic cruise control, etc.)
  • Cell phone camera
  • Spectrometers
  • Projectors
  • Heads-up displays (HUD)
  • Microscopes
  • Biosensors
  • Automated inspection cameras

Prototyping and manufacturing of imaging optics

One challenge with bringing imaging optics to market is the time to market. Long lead times are slowing down the pace of your innovation, whereas you want to remain ahead of your competitors. Another challenging area is prototyping imaging optics; optical prototypes can be quite expensive and, once again, are prone to long lead times.

Luckily this is where we might be able to help out. At Addoptics we have developed a unique prototyping and manufacturing service for custom optics. We offer smart manufacturing of optics, which allows you to scale prototyping and production with affordable, industry-grade optics. Our unique manufacturing method is fast and cost-effective.

Check our datasheet for our most up-to-date capabilities and material properties. Or reach out to us to discuss your project and imaging optics requirements.