In a radical departure from conventional lens-based optics, U.S. scientists have developed sophisticated optics made of webs of light-detecting fibers.

The fiber constructs, which have a number of advantages over their lens-based predecessors, are currently capable of measuring the direction, intensity and phase of light without the lenses, filters or detector arrays that are the classic elements of optical systems such as eyes or cameras.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers say they expect the new system will eventually have potential applications ranging from improved space telescopes to clothing that provides situational awareness to soldiers or visually impaired people.

The scientists say the transparent fiber-webs might even enable huge computer screens to be activated with beams of light instead of the touch of a finger.

We could use light to enhance interaction with computers and even gaming systems, said MIT Professor Yoel Fink, who led the study. It’s intriguing — the idea of touching with light.

The scientists report their work — funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — in the July issue of the journal Nature Materials.