New directional microphone design is inspired by the ears of a fly

David Kirkwood
June 5, 2013



Ormia ochracea

Ormia ochracea

MONTREAL—People are often said to see like an eagle or run like a deer. Maybe some day, those with acute hearing will be said to have ears like an Ormia ochracea.

Probably not, but this parasitic fly about the size of a common housefly does have incredibly sensitive directional hearing. That’s why researchers have been inspired by this insect’s anatomy to invent a new type of microphone that they hope will achieve better acoustical performance than anything currently available in hearing aids. The scientists will present their results this week in Montreal at the 21st International Congress on Acoustics.

As reported by the American Institute of Physics, Ronald Miles, a professor of mechanical engineering at Binghamton University, has spent years studying the hearing of Ormia ochracea, which is native to the Southeast United States and Central America. It has eardrums that sense sound pressure, as do human ears, and they hear “quite well,” says Miles. But what’s most remarkable is how the female flies use their super-sensitive directional hearing to locate singing male crickets, on which they deposit their larvae.

Previously, Miles and his colleagues Daniel Robert and Ronald Hoy described the mechanism by which the fly achieves its directional hearing, despite the minuscule distance between its two ears. Now they have designed a new microphone inspired by the fly’s ears.

This new design, which Miles says “could easily be made as small as the fly’s ear,” has potential for use not only in hearing aids, but also in cell phones and surveillance and noise-control systems.

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