LenSense was the only university team named a finalist in Nokia mobile technology competition.
A team of University of Arizona student entrepreneurs more than held its own in a competition among the mobile phone industry's leading innovators.
LenSense, a student-run company established through the UA's McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, was the only university team among the 12 finalists in Nokia's "Mobile Rules!" Challenge – the world's leading annual competition for business plans, applications and technology innovation in the business environment.
The cornerstone of LenSense is a compact, voltage-controlled, zoom lens module that would be integrated into cell phone cameras – directly addressing problems with camera phones currently on the market, including limited resolution and no optical zoom.
The startup venture's vision is to supply a lens for one of every four cameras worldwide by 2013 through research and development and partnerships through cell phone manufacturers.
"We've centered around the premise that your best camera is the one you always have with you," said Pouria Valley, a doctoral candidate in the UA College of Optical Sciences and a student in the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship in the Eller College of Management. They are advised by Jim Jindrick, mentor-in-residence at the McGuire Center.
Now in its second year, the goal of Nokia's Mobile Rules! is to discover developers and entrepreneurs who are creating new services for the mobile lifestyle. The technology innovation track of the competition focused on exceptional external innovations, technologies, patents and ideas that haven't been fully developed.
Approximately 100 companies, very few of which are university-based enterprises, presented their ideas for getting innovative new technologies in the hands of mobile device users.
As finalists, the LenSense team recently were able to personally present their business plan to Nokia executives in California.
The LenSense team – which includes Valley, who is the product and general manager; Jamie YuFang Huang, marketing manager; and Yan An, financial manager – came together as each of them planned to develop the business plan required of all students in the entrepreneurship program.
"At that time, Pouria was working by himself and needed someone to help him with the finance and marketing side," An said. "We all thought this idea was the best fit for us."
"Pouria always had passion for this technology," Jindrick said. "Fortunately, Jamie and Yan were able to come and complete his team."
The technology for LenSense's first product proposal, ZoomSense 1.0, was invented and developed in the UA College of Optical Sciences in 2002.
"With small amounts of voltage we can change the focal length and therefore achieve optical zooming at a very compact size with no mechanical movements," Valley said.
When applied to a cell phone camera, the technology allows the camera to achieve true optical zoom, improved picture quality and improved battery life, while maintaining the compact size to which cell phone consumers have grown accustomed. Currently, a typical camera phone uses only one lens with a fixed focal length.
According to Huang, the booming cell phone market was the ideal venue to implement and market the technology. At least 300 million cell phone cameras are manufactured each year.
While the Nokia competition has ended, the future is bright for LenSense and its team members. Huang and An will be graduate in May and relocate for professional opportunities. Valley, with Jindrick's continued support, will continue developing a camera phone prototype and pursue venture funding for LenSense