BEST OF 2014 // #79: Flies Designed Next Gen Hearing Aids

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Imagine a world where the next generation of hearing aids were designed with the help of a literal fly on the wall. Well, thats the world we live in. Scientists announced in July that a cutting-edge hearing aid had been inspired by the hypersensitive eyes of one insect.

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Ormia ochracea, a parasitic fly species, needs extremely accurate directional hearing to target its prey: crickets. But the fly’s ears are just half a millimeter apart — too close together to pinpoint a chirping cricket (which emits sound waves on a much larger scale), without some extra help. To amplify the difference between what each ear hears, O. ochracea relies on a seesaw-shaped mechanism – something of a marvel of bioengineering.

Scientists recreated the peculiar structure of the fly by creating a rectangular 2-millimeter silicon device with a fulcrum-like hinge supporting a tiny beam, equivalent to the fly’s seesaw. Sound wave force flexes and rotates the beam to generate an electrical signal that is interpreted in order to determine the direction of shock — the same as O. ochracea.

“We believe the optimized version will perform better than any commercially available microphones using the same spacing,”

– Michael Kuntzman, Study Author, University of Texas at Austin.

The device could potentially let the disabled learn all the chatter in a crowded room or let super secret James Bond-esque spies know information that could save lives with the money the program received from the U.S. military. Kuntzman said the next step is to build a system that is sufficiently robust for day-to-day use.

There’s 99 more stories from 2014.  Check out the Best of 2014 series here

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