In 2004, we covered Varioptic's liquid lens technology, reporting that by 2005 consumers could expect to see liquid lens cameraphones on store shelves. It's 2011, and we still don't have those products. But we're getting closer.
As a refresher, liquid lenses use two liquids--a refractive liquid (an oil), and a conductive, non-refractive liquid--together in a tiny sandwich, with the conductive liquid touching tiny electrodes. A current is applied to the electrodes to pull the liquid to them, and surface tension between the liquids changes the shape of the refractive material, and thus the optical characteristics of the lens package.
Simple liquid lenses have variable focal length, so they can focus. If you put four electrodes around the circumference of the lens, you can also change the axis of the lens, enabling image stabilization. The liquid lenses are faster to focus than current-tech voice-coil focusing lenses, and they take a fraction of the power, too. To make a liquid lens zoomable, you need a stack of three liquid lens components; that's in development. … Read more