Biomimetics involves taking a biological structure or system and mimicking it in a constructed physical system. The proposed work takes the structure of the Ornia ochracea fly and develops it into a miniature microphone system. The fly employs a unique coupled mechanical bar system to extract the direction of sound. Although the fly has ears separated by only about 500 micrometers, it has remarkable sensitivity to the direction of sound, sensitivity that would not be possible using techniques in larger animals, such as the difference in arrival time or the amplitude of the sound. The proposed micro-electromechanical system is based on an initial finite element simulation that indicates that the design will replicate the directional response.
Combining advances in Microsystems with biological system functionality will lead to a novel sound sensor. In addition to understanding how the hearing system of the fly achieves sensitivity, the sensors can be used to pinpoint sounds in the absence of people, such as at monitoring facility. The research will engage both advanced researchers and high school students. The system being designed could lead to the development of ultra-sensitive, small microphones and detectors that can be incorporated into a next-generation hearing aid for humans.