What can you do with microlenses?


Microlenses are very small lenses. ‘Small’ means that they are less than 1mm in diameter, and sometimes as small as 10µm. According to an entry in Wikipedia, microlenses “can give good optical quality but sometimes unwanted effects arise due to optical diffraction as small features”. Microlenses are used in different sectors and for different purposes. We used Mergeflow to find out more, and here are some examples of what we found:

Microlenses for medical use

The goal of Presbia, a medical device company based in Ireland, is to correct presbyopia. Presbyopia is an age-related focus dysfunction that results in the gradual loss of near vision. Presbia’s custom lenses are implanted into a patient’s non-dominant eye, in the hopes of helping the patient see near objects more clearly. To place the microlens into a patient’s eye, a small pocket is created in the cornea using a femtosecond laser. Following the implantation, the pocket seals naturally and the lens sits at the center of the visual axis.

You can see how Presbia’s system works in this YouTube video.

Microlenses for food testing

Timothy Swager’s lab at MIT has devised tiny microlenses from complex liquid droplets. These microlenses are comparable in size to the width of a human hair. Each droplet consists of an emulsion, or combination of two liquids, one encapsulated in the other, so-called Janus emulsions. The researchers decided to explore using Janus droplets as sensors because of their unique optical properties. If you are curious to know how they turn the droplets into sensors, you can read a more detailed description.

Thanks to these droplets, they found a new approach to identifying foodborne pathogens like Escherichia coli and other harmful bacteria. Such pathogens cause around 73,000 illnesses and 60 deaths every year in the USA. The new MIT test consists of an interaction between liquid droplets and bacterial proteins, which can be detected either by the naked eye or by a smartphone. Unlike existing approaches using expensive machines that require a 2-3 days process, MIT’s new technology does not require specialized instruments or technical training. The idea is to adapt the new technology into arrays of small wells, each containing droplets customized to detect a different pathogen and linked to a different QR code. This innovative idea could enable people e.g. in factories to easily scan and test the food before shipping it.

Microlenses for virtual reality

Lytro is an American company that develops light-field cameras. Light-field photography (also known as plenoptic photography) captures information about the intensity of light in a scene, and also information about the direction that the light rays are traveling in space. Lytro’s light field sensor uses an array of microlenses placed in front of a conventional image sensor that then captures intensity, color, and directional information.

Beyond making microlens-based devices, Lytro’s goal is to enable artists, scientists, and innovators to pursue their goals with an unprecedented level of freedom and control. One of their recent projects is Lytro Immerge. Lytro Immerge blends live action and computer graphics, using light field data captured by Lytro cameras. This technology is the first professional solution for cinematic virtual reality, and it seems to provide true presence for live action VR through six degrees of freedom. If you want to get more into details, you can find more information here.

Machine-augmented idea triage


Estimating the importance and dynamics of a topic

Idea triage plays an important role in business strategy, particularly in resource allocation. For instance, imagine that there are 10 technology fields or business areas that all sound promising, but you only have the resources to actually get into 3 of these topics. Which 3 out of your 10 technology fields should you select, and why? Continue Reading

Blockchain beyond finance


I recently read an article on how digitalization affects the energy sector. The article was written by Fabian Reetz at the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, a Berlin-based think tank “at the intersection of technology and society”. Not very surprisingly, given the topic, the article talks about blockchain a lot. Now, I was quite surprised when I saw this screenshot in the article (“Suchergebnisse” means “search results”):

Continue Reading

Waste disposal: using garbage as a valuable resource


The average person generates 1,9 kg of waste per day, which multiplied by the world population is 13,6 billion kg per day. What could be done to process solid waste and use garbage as a valuable resource? In order to answer this question, we used Mergeflow to find out more about innovative waste management solutions. Continue Reading

Superfoods: are they really super?


The food industry wants to persuade us that eating some foods can slow down the ageing process, lift depression, boost our physical ability, and even our intelligence. “Superfood” is the marketing term used to describe these foods that promise almost magical healing powers. But are these claims too good to be true? Pushed by our sense of curiosity, we searched via Merfeflow to find out the most recently discussed superfoods. Continue Reading

Medical devices for $0.01: A glimmer of hope for developing countries


Many places in the world, especially developing countries, don’t have access to early medical diagnostics. They are often affected by diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. In addition, illiteracy is wide-spread in these areas (which makes it hard to train people on sophisticated medical equipment, even if the high cost of this equipment were not an issue). Given these extreme challenges, what could be done in order to improve medical care and diagnostics? Continue Reading

Space: a medical research environment


Elon Musk is planning to send two people to the moon next year. This has made headlines; but what’s going on in space right now in terms of research?

Via Mergeflow we discovered that there are several organizations from around the world that conduct research on diseases in space. Continue Reading

Flywheel energy storage: only in museums?


What comes to your mind when you think of flywheels? I assume you probably think of rollercoasters or something you have seen in a museum. Believe it or not, with Mergeflow we found companies and energy projects that develop and use flywheels for energy storage. Flywheel energy storage can help overcome limitations of intermittent energy supplies, such as Solar PV or Wind Turbines, that do not produce electricity 24/7.

Continue Reading

Are banks investing in startups outside fintech?


Probably nobody would be surprised if they saw a bank investing in fintech startups. After all, fintech should be their home turf. We wanted to know if banks also invest in startups outside fintech.

Using Mergeflow, we looked at more than 500 venture investment rounds from January to February 2017. We checked whether banks participated in any of these investment rounds. With two exceptions, the results were a bit sobering. Continue Reading

Fake news: is there a technological solution?



Fake news are on the world agenda. Some people say that there are more news about fake news than actual fake news. We did some reasearch on the matter to try to figure out if anyone has developed a tool to fight disinformation. Fortunately, we discovered that many academics and technologists are thinking up solutions to the problem. Continue Reading