A tiny camera that works like the human eye—that’s the idea. Ever wondered why even really good cell phone cameras can’t compare to a real camera? This is because in order to zoom and focus, space is required to move the lenses for best focus and zoom. Cell phones do not have the space available to incorporate complex, moving lens systems. That’s where the eye concept comes in to potentially benefit the cell-camera: don’t move sets of rigid lenses, just stretch a single plastic lens!

To achieve this goal, a team of mostly undergraduate engineering students was formed into nFocus, a University of Utah startup company, by Ronnie Boutte, then an Electrical and Computer Engineering Junior. Boutte was inspired by the Olympic Arch to enter the Sandia National Labs microsystem design competition. Recall during the 2002 Olympics, the Hoberman Arch was the opening and closing mechanical curtain revealing the awards ceremony stage. Boutte wanted to use this same concept on a much smaller scale. With Florian Solzbacher and Ian Harvey of the College of Engineering as mentors, and using project-based courses for building prototypes, Boutte and his team began to realize their vision.

“Based on the camera application of the microdeployable structure, I decided to start a company,” said Boutte, recently having defended his M.S. Thesis in Mechanical Engineering. “Founding nFocus has been a wonderful and fun challenge. Just last year, nFocus won the statewide “Tech Titans” competition, and we were semifinalists in the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge.” During 2006-07, The team was awarded $70,000 in Technology Commercialization Program funds from the University of Utah.

nFocus is now in the process of formulating agreements with strategic partners. With a product development partner nFocus will be able to commercialize within mass markets.