Ever heard of a hearing aid that replicates the hearing capability of Ormia ochracea flies?
You heard it right. A research team from the University of Texas at Austin (UT) studied and developed a miniature device that could lead to the development of a sophisticated hearing aid. The research team based their studies on the ultra-sensitive hearing system of the Ormia ochracea fly.
Sound Processing of Humans Vs Ormia Ochracea Fly
Humans are able to locate sound sources as the speed of the noise combines with the separation between the ears. The brain is allowed to process the sound perceptually given the difference in time sound waves take to hit the ears.
This ability is non-existent with insects. In general, insects, unlike other animals cannot identify sound sources because sound waves hit both the ears at the same time, which is why researchers picked the yellow fly.
The hearing system of the Ormia ochracea is different because its ear system has a minute, teeter-totter like mechanisms that enable it to locate sound sources within two degrees. The sound phase shifts in the four-millionths of a second between sound going in one ear and in the other.
Integrating Piezoelectric Materials
This is not the first time that the hearing mechanisms of a fly were used as a basis for R&D but the UT research team is the first to introduce the use of piezoelectric materials in the hearing device. The UT research team led by an assistant professor in the university’s Cockrell School of Engineering, Neal Hall said in a press release that minimal power consumption is critical in the development of a hearing-aid device because hearing aids rely on batteries.
Using piezoelectric materials on the hearing device will result in very little power consumption. Synthesizing the hearing mechanism with the piezoelectric material is considered a big leap towards attaining commercialization of the technology.
One Of The Many Animal-Inspired Research Projects
The project undertaken by the UT researchers is the latest in an active body of research efforts geared towards mimicking natural biological processes in the development and creation of medical devices which usually require ultra-precision provided by proponents of wire EDM services.
- The University of California, Irvine (UCI) has researchers who have recently discovered a protein in squid skin that could potentially be used to power a variety of medical devices.
- Medical Device Online reported research that used spider webs to create biomedical adhesives.
- Another research project reported by Medical Device Online studied the octopus arms to use as a model for medical surgical robots.
Replicating The Fly’s Hearing Mechanism
In the UT research project, they built an almost exact replica of the fly’s hearing mechanism through a tiny silicon device that measures 2 millimeters in width. The tiny device is integrated with piezoelectric materials which allow the mechanical strain to be converted to electric signals and a flexible beam which allows measuring of the flexing and rotation of the teeter-totter beam.
Positive Prospects Of Fly-Inspired Technology
The new technology is viewed to potentially enable a generation of hearing aids with sophisticated microphones that only select sounds or conversations that are of interest to the user of the hearing device.
The “fly-inspired” technology may be a boom for people with a hearing impairment. Currently, only 2% of Americans wear hearing aids. With this new technology, as much as 10% of the American population could benefit from wearing the device.
Use In Military Application
Other applications of the device with a “sophisticated sound processing system” include the military where soldiers are in dark environments without any visual clues. This UT research is one of the many (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) DARPA-funded research work.
Research work like this deserves to have government funding and support, don’t they?