Super fly hearing powers captured in miniature microphone

Biomimicry based on a fly's hearing could improve hearing aid noise reception
CC BY 2.0 Bob Peterson

A new microphone based on a fly's ear could spur the next big improvement in the acoustical performance of hearing aids, as well as inspire better instruments wherever optimizing directional noise capture to improve signal to noise ratio matters.

Millions of plugged-in people live to their personal musical soundtrack complements of headphones and portable players, ignoring doctor's warnings about the dangers of hearing loss. Only those who know someone with significant hearing loss realize the true scope of this tragedy: hearing loss leaves people isolated, struggling to enjoy the simple social exchanges that make life worth living.

Waifer X/CC BY 2.0

Although hearing aid technology has made tremendous advances, even the best hearing aids still have the problem of extraneous noise, leaving the voice of the person to whom one wishes to talk muddled in a sea of sound -- and pointing out just how truly phenomenal our natural hearing apparatus really is.

In a promising biomimicry breakthrough, scientists have studied the ear of a parasitic fly -- the Ormia ochracea. The house-fly sized insects attracted scientists' interest because they use hearing to locate singing crickets, the carriers for Ormia ochracea's larvae.

Based on previous research that discovered the fly's trick to super hearing, scientists have now demonstrated a micro-microphone that can capture sounds with a "noise floor" 17 decibels lower than the microphones currently available in hearing aids. The "noise floor" means the amount of "noise" above which the target signal must rise in order to be singled out against the background -- effectively 17 decibels less buzz burying the cute things your grandchild may be saying.

The new microphone, which lead author Ronald Miles claims "could easily be made as small as the fly's ear," is being presented at the 21st International Congress on Acoustics.

Ever since old men sitting with horns held to their ears epitomized reaching a ripe old age, the battle to hear as our own biological equipment wears out has been joined. Leveraging nature's best solutions to provide bionic hearing promises new breakthroughs in this old struggle.

John Dill/CC BY 2.0

Tags: Appropriate Technology | Biomimicry | Insects

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