May 19, 2016 | By Kira

Three Italian entrepreneurs have developed and launched Flens (or F.lens), a flashlight enhancer for smartphones that can boost the regular flash’s power by as much as 10x, thanks to 3D printed optic lenses from Dutch 3D printing innovator LUXeXcel.

It’s a situation I go through on an almost nightly basis. I put on my pjs, turn off the lights, and then—because the light switch is at the other end of my room—use my smartphone’s flash to guide me as a stumble towards bed. Yet a brighter and more focused smartphone flashlight would be a benefit in so many other situations, too: going on nighttime hikes, performing engine inspections or DIY repairs, emergency situations, or even shooting high-quality photos and videos in dark settings.

Flens, now on Kickstarter, allows smartphone users to do all of the above and more. A tiny, square-shaped device, Flens' prototype consists of a specialized lens that is 3D printed using a plastic material with optical properties similar to PMMA. The lens extracts every bit of light from your smartphone’s LED flash and is housed within a CNC-machined aluminum cube that attaches to your smartphone via a carbon-steel adhesive ring and neodymium magnetic mounts.

While most smparthones, the Apple iPhone in included (for which the Flens was specifically designed), already come with flashlight apps, the built-in flash tends to be quite diffused or ‘shallow’. This is ideal for most low-light picture-taking situations, but that’s about it.

Instead, Flens concentrates the available light into a tight-focused, far-reaching beam so that it works like a real flashlight, illuminating areas up to 10 meters away.

The trio behind Flens (previously, the trio behind Relio) came up with the idea back in August 2015, and by October 2015, they had designed and 3D printed the tiny, featherweight frame. “Various iterations of the external shell led to the smallest, lightest package we could imagine,” they explained. It measures just 12mm and weighs 2 grams.

However, the power of Flens lies in its actual lens, where the light is captured, concentrated, and put to use. To manufacture an optimized glass surface, the developers approached Netherlands-based LUXeXcel, the first and only company in the world that has managed to 3D print fully transparent, perfectly smooth and optically functional lenses.

LUXeXcel uses its patented Printoptical Technology, a process for prototyping and manufacturing transparent products that is based on a wide-format industrial inkjet printing system. Instead of 3D printing layer-by-layer, however, Printoptical Technology uses small droplets that are cured by strong UV lamps. This results in truly clear lenses that are both faster and cheaper to produce, as they do not require any post-processing, such as polishing, grinding, or coloring.

Though LUXeXcel’s technology is mainly applied in the LED lighting industry, the company has been expanding its applications. Since launching an online 3D printing service and receiving a €7.5 million investment last year, the company has partnered with Trinckle and with software vendor OPTIS to advance more uses of custom and specialized 3D printed optic lenses.

According to Flens, working with LUXeXcel was a “wonderful partnership.” “We received a perfect-fit prototype of our custom designed lenses in just 5 days.” The final, 3D printed lens is made from N-BK7 borosilicate glass, ideal for scratch-resistance and optical transmission efficiency. And the best part? Having the lenses 3D printed “cost less than you can imagine.”

Flens is now available on Kickstarter, and has raised more than €15,000 of its €20,000 goal as of this writing. It is compatible with every flash-enabled Apple device, from the iPhone 4 right to the iPad Pro 9.7. For non-Apple users, it is also compatible with selected Android and Windows Phone devices. As a final bit of clever and practical design, each Flens comes with a micro-lanyard so it can be safely kept on your keychain when not in use.

If successfully funded, rewards begin at just €17 for early birds, with the standard edition retail Flens set to retail for around €30 (US$35), quite a reasonable price for such a nifty and useful little gadget. Best of all, it demonstrates a clearly consumer application of 3D printed transparent lenses.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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