Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Technology

Fly Inspires Better Hearing Aids

Researchers re-created a fly's unique hearing mechanism, which could lead to better hearing aids and spy tools.

By Carl EngelkingNovember 26, 2014 6:00 AM
omni-ochracea.jpg
Ron Hoy

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Imagine a world where a fly on the wall could help Grandpa Joe and James Bond. In July, researchers announced that one fly’s hypersensitive ears had inspired a cutting-edge hearing device.

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. So O. ochracea relies on a seesaw-shaped mechanism to amplify the difference between what each ear hears.

Researchers re-created the fly’s unique mechanism by constructing a 2-millimeter rectangular silicon device with a fulcrumlike pivot supporting a tiny beam, similar to a seesaw. Pressure from sound waves flexes and rotates the beam to create an electric signal that’s processed to determine sound direction — the same way O. ochracea does.

“We believe the optimized version will perform better than any commercially available microphones using the same spacing,” says study author Michael Kuntzman, who conducted the research at the University of Texas at Austin.

The device could help the elderly hear all the gossip at a dinner party or, with the funding the project got from the U.S. military, let spies hear secrets that could save lives. Kuntzman said the next step is to design a device that’s durable enough for the rigors of everyday use.

[This article originally appeared in print as "Insect Lends Us Its Ears."]

    2 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In