Google ATAP requested a module for their modular ARA phone – something that couldn’t possibly ship in any other phone on the market. Midnight Commercial proposed a self contained biome complete with a digital microscope to view water bears (also known as tardigrades). The challenge was getting the biome, enclosure, image sensor, and magnification optics under the 5mm height restriction.
I was brought in to lead the industrial design and prototyping arms of a totally bonkers device that mashed up biology, microscopy, and personal electronics. I worked with Noah Feehan to turn his system architecture into physical hardware. I had the help of Jesse Gonzales on hardware prototyping, and Sam Posner on Android development. I led physical prototyping, testing equipment design, set and managed the goals for the biological research track performed by Genspace, and developed a custom microlens array with the help of MTF simulations and optics engineering expertise from Cody Daniel.
An extremophile rotifer found by Genspace researcher Will Shindel. I helped research and develop the expedition that acquired this species as part of an effort to populate the enclosure with an ecosystem that would tolerate a huge range of environmental conditions.
An isolation slide for evaluating sample biome populations in parallel.
The team, left to right: David Nuñez, Sam Posner, Jesse T. Gonzalez, Bailey Meadows, stuffed animal tardigrade, Noah Feehan, Matt Borgatti, and Jennifer Bernstein
The POE (Precision Optical Evaluator) was my biggest engineering push of the whole project. It is a flexure-based system for sub-micron positioning and measurement for the elements that went into the optical stack: the light source, microlens array, and optical sensor. By getting these elements together along with laser triangulation sensors logging the distances between them, we were able to nail down the optical quality of the output based off of positions to get a scope of our eventual manufacturing tolerances.
I created these printed test units to rapidly combine multiple camera packages, biomes, and optical stacks together to get an understanding of our optimizations as quickly as possible after the project was go.
The printed evaluator stack laid out
An experiment in duplicating MLA’s using PDMS and optical adhesive. This lens performed comparably to the original glass lens.
A micro-biome for evaluating tardigrades in the POE
A EDM flexure designed to clamp optical elements in the POE.
I designed this flexure plate as a component in the POE to hold a tardigrade biome planar to the optical sensor.
Evaluating the image coming through the micro-lens array in the POE.
The POE (Precision Optical Evaluator) I designed to measure the tolerances of our custom-made optical elements.