Helping the hearing impaired with the ear of a fly

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

                    Image courtesy of SUNY Binghampton and Dr. Ron Miles.
Pssst. Hey you. Bzzzz. Can you hear me?

There’s a really cool field of science called biomimicry that looks at living biological things to mimic (copy) them and create effective technology. Recently, a group of researchers developed a very small microphone that can pick up sound better than other super mini microphones, like those found in hearing aids!

How did they pull off this amazing feat?

They have modeled their technology on a fly called the Ormia ochracea, which is a housefly-sized insect most often found in the southern United States and Central America. A man named Ronald Miles, Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Binghamton University, works with researchers Daniel Robert and Ronald Hoy to study the tiny creature.

See, this fly uses directional hearing to pick up where sound is coming from, and the new microphone design these guys came up with uses a blend of optical sensors – that pick up light – to figure out what direction the sound is coming from.

Their research made use of millions of dollars in funding from the National Institutes of Health – the main research organization of the United States government that focuses on biomedical and health research. This money, however, was mainly focused on scientific discovery rather than actually creating a mechanical product to be sold. As a result of the incredible findings this group has come up with, they have recently received hundreds of thousands of dollars more to advance their microphone research.

The device, which can be used in everything from hearing aids to cell phones, could be made in an incredibly tiny size. How tiny? Miles says, it “could easily be made as small as the fly’s ear.”

Image of hearing aid and fly comparison courtesy of SUNY Binghampton and Dr. Ron Miles