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Sensitive ears of parasitic fly inspires new microphone design

Posted: 04 Jun 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:microphone? hearing aid? Q control?

A group of researchers at Binghamton University has developed a new type of microphone that according to them achieves better acoustical performance than what is currently available in hearing aids. The design was based on the sensitive ears of a parasitic flyOrmia ochraceaa house fly-sized insect that is native to the southeast U.S. and Central America.

Ronald Miles, professor of mechanical engineering at Binghamton University, stated that Ormia ochracea has eardrums that sense sound pressure, as do our ears, and they can hear "quite well." The female flies use their "remarkable" directional hearing to locate singing male crickets, on which they deposit their larvae.

Previously, Miles and colleagues Daniel Robert and Ronald Hoy described the mechanism by which the fly achieves its directional hearing, despite its small size. The new design uses a microelectromechanical microphone with a 1 x 3mm diaphragm that is designed to rotate about a central pivot in response to sound pressure gradients. The motion of the diaphragm is detected using optical sensors. To minimise the adverse effects of resonances on the response, Miles and his colleagues used a feedback system to achieve so-called active Q control.

"Q control basically is an electronic feedback control system to introduce electronic damping," Miles noted. "You don't want a microphone diaphragm to ring like a bell. It turns out that in order to achieve a very low noise floorwhich is the quietest sound that can be detected without the signal being buried in the microphone's noiseit is important to minimise any passive damping in these sensors. If you do that, the diaphragm will resonate at its natural frequency. We are the first group to show that you can use this sort of electronic damping in a microphone without adversely affecting the noise floor of the microphone."

Indeed, the noise floor of the fly-inspired microphone is about 17dB lower than what can be achieved using a pair of low-noise hearing aid microphones to create a directional hearing aid. The new design could be used in applications ranging from hearing aids and cell phones to surveillance and acoustic noise control systems, Miles added, and "could easily be made as small as the fly's ear."

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