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Metalenz Partners with Samsung on Face-Recognition Technology

Micrograph of Metalenz components on chip[Enlarge image]

Metalenz metasurface-based optics on a chip. [Image: Metalenz]

Metalenz, an early-stage US-based company working to bring metasurface technologies to mass-market consumer applications, has unveiled a partnership with Samsung Electronics to pair a leading Samsung image sensor with an emerging Metalenz product in mobile face-recognition technology.

Under the partnership, Metalenz will use Samsung’s ISOCELL Vizion 931 global shutter sensor as the image sensor in Metalenz’s Polar ID camera, which will make its public debut at this week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. The Polar ID system relies on specialized polarization-sensing metasurfaces to assemble a “polarization signature” of a human face from a single image for face recognition.

Metalenz says the metasurface-based Polar ID enables “a 50% size and cost reduction over traditional face unlock solutions,” according to a press release announcing the partnership. And the company believes linking up with Samsung will help bring the scale required to “drive rapid smartphone adoption.”

Shrinking and simplifying sensors

Metalenz was founded in 2016 by its CEO, Rob Devlin, as a spinout from the lab of Federico Capasso at Harvard University, USA, a key incubator of metasurface and metalens technologies. Since the spinout, Devlin and the Metalenz team have focused relentlessly on manufacturability of metasurfaces in semiconductor foundries. “You need to keep in mind that you don’t just want it to be interesting,” Devlin told OPN in a 2023 interview. You want to make it at the end of the day, and you want to be able to make it cost effectively, repeatedly, and so on.” (Devlin was one of the company-builders profiled in OPN’s 2023 “Entrepreneurs to Watch” feature.)

Since its founding, Metalenz has notched some notable successes in its drive to use optical metasurfaces as a vehicle for shrinking and simplifying sensors for consumer devices. In mid-2022, for example, the company announced that its flat-lens devices would be included as a component in the widely used VL53L8 direct time-of-flight (dToF) sensor of the semiconductor manufacturer ST Microelectronics—a development Metalenz characterized as the first time metasurface technology was being used in consumer devices. In parallel, the firm has grown its financial resources (closing on a US$30 million Series B round in late 2022) and boosted its staff.

Polar ID for smartphones

In recent years, Metalenz has focused in particular on polarization sensing, through a metasurface-based module it has trade-named PolarEyes. The Polar ID camera system, targeted for smartphone face-recognition applications, represents the first key product implementation of its polarization-sensing metasurfaces.

The Polar ID system combines Metalenz’s polarization image sensor with “post-processing algorithms and sophisticated machine-learning models” to capture what the company calls “a unique polarization signature” of a human face.

Metalenz actually introduced the Polar ID system in October 2023, at the annual “Snapdragon Summit” of Qualcomm Technologies. The system combines the company’s polarization image sensor with “post-processing algorithms and sophisticated machine-learning models” to capture what the company calls “a unique polarization signature” of a human face.

The ultrathin metasurfaces, according to Metalenz, can provide significant wins in compactness and power efficiency relative to alternative face-recognition solutions that rely on structured light and patterned illumination. Notably, Metalenz says Polar ID is “the world’s only consumer-grade imaging system that can sense the full polarization state of light,” and that it can extract detailed polarization information from a single image.

Building scale for “millions of phones”

Metalenz says that the Samsung partnership brings an opportunity to combine its polarization sensing with a state-of-the-art image sensor for smartphones. The Samsung ISOCELL Vizion 931, which is optimized for eye-tracking and face detection applications, reportedly has industry-leading quantum efficiency in the 850- and 940-nm near-infrared bands used for these applications.

Beyond those technical chops, Devlin highlighted the advantages of scale that pairing his firm’s metalens technology with Samsung’s state-of-the-art image sensor would bring. “Polar ID is poised to bring secure face unlock to hundreds of millions of phones and a whole new class of sensing to millions of people,” Devlin said in a press release. “The collaboration with Samsung marks a new era for mobile vision systems and provides Metalenz with a partner that has the proven quality and scale required to bring Polar ID to all phones.”

Publish Date: 26 February 2024

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