Itochu Corp invested in Holochip Corp and agreed to a tie-up in the product development and sales.

Based on Holochip's proprietary liquid lens technology, the two companies will jointly develop and commercialize compact and thin autofocusing lenses and zoom lens modules in Japan and other Asian regions.

Holochip's liquid lens technology forms a lens by sealing liquid in a case made of transparent polymer membrane. The focal distance of the liquid lens may be varied by changing the shape of the lens with a horizontal forces applied from the circumference of the lens.

Autofocusing and zooming are possible without mechanically changing the distances between several solid lenses. The technology can reduce the number of lenses in a lens module and the thickness of the module.

Varioptic SA of France developed a similar liquid lens technology in which the focusing is obtained by electrically controlling the interface between water and oil. Varioptic already established a mass-production system in collaboration with Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co Ltd of Korea and launched products for phonecams.

Comparing the Holochip's technology illustrated in the released technical data with Varioptic's technology, the biggest difference is that the former technology can form a lens with a larger diameter that can endure wide temperature ranges. A lens installed in digital cameras, etc should withstand the storage temperature ranging from -40 to +85°C and the operation temperature from -20 to +60°C.

Varioptic's ARTIC314 has a diameter of 3.4mm while Holochip's adaptive polymer lens (APL), which withstands the same temperature ranges, has a diameter of 10mm. The APL, however, is presently positioned as a product used for optical studies.

Itochu and Holochip plan to jointly develop new compact lenses and other products for use in consumer electronics such as digital cameras and are looking for partner companies to handle mass-production and sales.